|SAN BENITO, September 30 - They organized health fairs, held workshops and news conferences, participated in other community events and basically did whatever it took to get Rio Grande Valley residents insured.
Now, volunteers with Get Covered America can see the fruits of their labor. They can report that 33,740 Texans in the four-county Valley region signed up for health coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace during the first open enrollment period of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
José Medrano, regional organizing lead with Enroll America, said he could not be more proud of the effort that was made.
“Each of the people who got covered has a story. Tens of thousands of people in the Valley have health insurance now. They’re seeing doctors and benefiting from that added security that comes with getting covered. It’s security that many may have not ever had before,” Medrano told the Guardian.
“The Get Covered America campaign and our partners in the coalition here in the Valley took to the airwaves, the streets and wherever the uninsured were to get out this message that there are new, affordable health insurance options. I couldn’t be prouder of the difference it’s making in the lives of our fellow border residents.”
It is estimated that 40 percent of Valley residents do not have health insurance. Supporters of ACA believe more people in the region could have been signed up for coverage had there been more navigators and had the restrictions on undocumented immigrants receiving coverage been eased.
According to navigator groups, thousands of Valley residents tried to sign up for health insurance under ACA but were turned away because they were in the so-called “coverage gap.” In other words, they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to qualify for a big government subsidy under ACA. When ACA was being developed, the thought was that this portion of the population would be covered through the expansion of Medicaid. The federal government made it financially attractive for states to expand Medicaid but some, including Texas, declined to do so.
Enroll America came up with the enrollment figures for the Valley by utilizing new detailed enrollment data released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The dataset released by HHS broke down the total number of sign-ups on the federally-facilitated Marketplace during open enrollment by ZIP code. Enroll America used that data to then show how many individuals enrolled by county.
Enroll America’s analysis shows that 33,740 Texans in the Rio Grande Valley region signed up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Broken down by county, the data shows that 21,190 people enrolled in Hidalgo County and 10,432 enrolled in Cameron County. The remaining 2,118 enrollees hailed from Starr and Willacy counties.
“It’s great news that almost 34,000 got covered in the Valley through the Health Insurance Marketplace, but our work here is far from over,” said Mimi Garcia, state director of Get Covered America. “With the next open enrollment period right around the corner, we’ll be working nonstop with our partners in the Enroll RGV collaborative to make sure that area residents get covered and stay covered.”
Garcia said that in addition to continuing to work to enroll Texans eligible for coverage now and informing them about the next open enrollment period, which starts on Nov. 15, Get Covered America is also planning to reach out to people throughout the state who got covered to make sure that they understand how to keep their health insurance.
Medrano added that health insurance literacy and the renewal process are among the areas of focus for the organization’s consumer outreach in the months ahead. This month, during National Hispanic Heritage Month, for example, the campaign is embarking on a series of Health Insurance Education and Resource Fairs around the state, including one scheduled for October in the Valley.
U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, was one of the biggest champions of the Affordable Care Act in the Valley during the first enrollment period. His office organized many health fairs and educational gatherings on the subject.
“The proof is in the pudding,” Hinojosa told the Guardian. “I believe that we now have approximately 7.8 million people enrolled under the Affordable Care Act and that was just the first try. On November 15 through February 15 we are going to have a second period of enrollment through the Affordable Care Act and we believe it will grow even bigger.”
Hinojosa said his one regret about the rollout of ACA was that Gov. Rick Perry did not take advantage of hundreds of millions of additional federal dollars to expand Medicaid. He said the money Texas left on the table has now gone to other states.
“If we had Medicaid expansion - which the Governor of Texas did not, unfortunately, allow – we could probably have another two or three million people in Texas covered under the Affordable Care Act,” Hinojosa said. “However, I am not giving up. As people are seeing the benefits that come from this new program, I can assure you more and more people are going to be fighting to expand it, just like they did Social Security and just like they did Medicaid, all those years ago.”