Undeterred Texans Enrolling in ACA Marketplace Coverage

Editor’s note: Clayton Travis is a volunteer with Insure Central Texas, assisting Texans with enrollment in the new Affordable Care Act Health Insurance Marketplace.

Ava’s* second visit to the Foundation Communities’ Insure Central Texas enrollment site was when she started to really understand the opportunity of health coverage. Speaking only Spanish, she said she was there for her pre-scheduled appointment. The week before, Ava had come in curious about her health insurance options under Obamacare.  While on that first visit she had been eager to create her own personalized account and compare plans, the early glitches on the federal Healthcare.gov site had prevented her from doing so.

This time she worked directly with the volunteer staff at Insure Central Texas who answered her questions and helped her estimate what subsidies she and her husband might receive for insurance in the Health Insurance Marketplace. Healthcare.gov worked intermittently, but Ava remained resolved and pledged to come back once the site was fully functioning.  She – like many Texans – realizes the importance of health coverage for her whole family. It took a third visit, but eventually Ava was able to get covered.

The Affordable Care Act’s rollout of the Health Insurance Marketplace was marred by early technical glitches that impeded many Texans in accessing the federally facilitated portal. However, states that had opted to set up their own programs had fewer challenges. In California and New York, states that set up state-based Marketplaces, tens of thousands of residents completed insurance applications in just the first week of operation.

Texas could have been one of these examples. Instead, Governor Perry made it clear Texas would not participate in the creation of its own Marketplace, defaulting to the federally facilitated marketplace. Ava and hundreds of thousands of uninsured Texans and millions across the nation wound up all needing to use the same federal site at once as a result. An entire country’s pent-up demand for health coverage was pretty overwhelming, but the site is working today and the open enrollment period continues through March.

What has become clear is that uninsured Texans, eager to find care, remain undeterred by these challenges. The release of this month’s Health Insurance Marketplace data shows nearly half a million Texans have applied for coverage in the ACA Marketplace - 118,532 of whom have selected a plan and will have coverage starting February 1st. 74 percent of those who selected a plan received financial assistance to lower the cost of their monthly premiums. Furthermore, 47,000 Texans who applied through the new Marketplace have been determined eligible to enroll in the state’s existing Medicaid or CHIP plans.

During this critical window of opportunity, there are a few things uninsured Texans and those offering them assistance should know:

1)     The last day of open enrollment for 2014 is March 31st with coverage beginning in April. If you sign up before March 31st and in the first half of the month (1st – 15th) your coverage will begin the first day of the following month. If you enroll in the end of the month (16th – end of month) your coverage will kick in the first day of the following month.

2)     The website isn’t the only way to gain health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The Healthcare.gov call center can help, too, and wait times are low. Families can go through the entire process of creating an account, comparing plans, and enrolling in health coverage by calling Call 1-800-318-2596.

3)     If you do use the website, allow time to compare and shop. Once you set up an account, identify the area you live in, and determine what type of coverage you are looking for, plans will be outlined by price. Then you can see various price reductions available, due to subsidies and varying coverage levels. Like Ava, you might opt to go to talk someone in your area to help walk you through the ins and outs of various plans in your price range and get you ready to purchase through the Marketplace.

Health insurance plans have never before been so clearly laid out in one place. Families can discover coverage options that will fit their needs and at an affordable price – safeguarding them against medical bankruptcy and providing financial stability and reassurance. Ava and countless Texas families know this peace of mind was worth the wait.

*Names have been changed.

 Written by Clayton Travis, Hogg Foundation Mental Health Policy Fellow for Texans Care for Children.