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Congressman Filemon Vela held an enrollment fair for the Affordable Care Act at the offices of La Unión del Pueblo Entero in San Juan.

McALLEN, RGV – The border region field organizer for Enroll America has praised the work of South Texas Congressmen Rubén Hinojosa, Henry Cuellar and Filemon Vela in promoting the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.

Jose Medrano also thanked the Equal Voice Network, school districts, navigator groups and federally funded clinics for the “significant” roles they played in helping to dramatically reduce the number of uninsured citizens in the region.

Medrano made his comments on the 5th Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

“In Hidalgo County we have seen the number of uninsured drop from 37 percent in 2013 to 24 percent in 2014. In Willacy County the drop has been from 43 percent to 29 percent. In Starr County the number of uninsured has dropped from 39 percent in 2013 to 25 percent in 2014. In Brooks, it has dropped from 38 percent to 25 percent. And in Webb County, it has dropped from 34 percent to 21 percent,” Medrano said.

Medrano said he did not have the figures for Cameron County to hand but guessed they would be in the same range as the other South Texas border counties, 13 to 14 percent.

“We know of a lot of immigrant families that are now in transition (with their immigration status) and health insurance would not have been on their radar for at least the second or third generation. Or who knows when? They are now reaping the benefits of the Affordable Care Act,” Medrano said proudly.

“We are an educating group and our work has been successful and well received and we have made an impact. But we still have a lot of work to do.”

Asked if one could attribute the drop in the percentage of uninsured in the South Texas border region largely to the impact of the Affordable Care Act, Medrano said: “Because it is the law and because there is a penalty attached, the community has been moving forward with getting themselves educated and if they are deemed eligible based on income, many of them are enrolling in a healthcare plan. Education is the key.”

Medrano gave thanks to Enroll America’s partners in the South Texas border region.

“All the congressmen, Rubén Hinojosa, Henry Cuellar and Filemon Vela have been instrumental in making sure their constituencies were well educated on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. Barely a week would go by in the enrollment period when they were not holding enrollment fairs,” Medrano said.

“The congressmen helped form the Enroll RGV Coalition. They were joined by our sister organizations, such as MHP Salud, and Cognosante, along with the federally qualified health clinics. Staff members at the federally qualified clinics take their folks that are going in to receive health care from the clinic’s specific plan and get them educated about the ACA and then transition them to that. Many are migrants. When they traveled to another state they did not have a plan that followed them. Now have that benefit.”

Medrano’s group, Enroll America, is the nation’s leading health care enrollment coalition. An independent nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, Medrano said it works with more than 4,600 partners in all 50 states to create “cutting-edge tools, analyze data, inform policy, and share best practices in service of its mission: maximizing the number of Americans who enroll in and retain health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.”

Mimi Garcia is state director in Texas for Enroll America. Garcia said that as a result of ACA people no longer have to worry about how they will pay unexpected medical bills if they get sick. She said that because of the ACA, more than 16 million Americans have gained health insurance coverage.

Here are a few other things the ACA has done, Garcia said:

•    2.3 million young people, between the ages of 19 and 25, have gained coverage since 2010
•    Ensured every plan covers 10 essential health services including emergency room visits, prescription drugs and preventative care
•    Insurance companies can no longer drop a person’s coverage for getting sick
•    Eliminated pre-existing conditions and gender discrimination meaning someone  won’t be charged more because of your health status or gender
•    Gave 47 million women access to guaranteed preventative women’s health services
•    In Texas 468,797 consumers under the age of 35 signed up for Marketplace coverage
•    68 percent of Texas Marketplace enrollees obtained coverage for $100 or less after any applicable tax credits
•    More than 8 out of 10 Texas consumers who signed up through the Health Insurance Marketplace qualified for an average tax credit of $239 per month

“It’s amazing to see how the ACA has helped and made a difference for so many people. In Texas alone, more than 1.2 million Texans have enrolled in or renewed their health insurance plans,” Garcia added.

Congressman Hinojosa said the reduction in the number of uninsured is due to three key provisions in the ACA:  the availability of affordable insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplaces, the expansion of Medicaid, and allowing young people up to  age 26 to stay on their parents’ plans. However, he pointed out that Medicaid has yet to be expanded in Texas.

Hinojosa made these comments on the 5th Anniversary of ACA:

“Since the Affordable Care Act was passed into law in 2010, millions of working and middle class families have the economic security of knowing that they won’t go broke if they get sick. During this time, hundreds of families in the 15th Congressional district have enrolled in the new health care system. By coordinating numerous ACA enrollment fairs throughout my Congressional District 15, many residents have been assisted in securing their health care benefits under our new law. According to “Enroll America”, before the ACA was made law, Hidalgo County alone had a 37 percent of its population uninsured for health care. After the implementation of the ACA, that percentage dropped to 24 percent, and those of the other seven counties in my district dropped considerably as well.”

Hinojosa said that thanks to the ACA, millions of Americans who already have health insurance “now have better coverage because women can no longer be charged higher premiums than men for the same plan, people with pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied coverage, and young adults won’t age off their parent’s policy when they turn age 19 or graduate from college.”

Hinojosa also noted that Latinos have benefited from ACA. He said that among Latino adults, the uninsured rate dropped by 29 percent (12.3 percentage points), resulting in 4.2 million people gaining coverage. Hinojosa said that 8.8 million Latinos with private insurance now have access to expanded preventive services with no cost-sharing. He said this includes services such as screening for colon cancer, Pap smears and mammograms for women, well-child visits, and flu shots for all children and adults. And, Hinojosa said, about 11.8 million Latinos, including 4.4 million Latina women, no longer have lifetime or annual limits on their health insurance coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

Congressman Cuellar said if a person missed the deadline to enroll in a health care plan in February, they may still qualify for enrollment as part of a Special Enrollment Period which began March 15 and runs through April 30.

“Health insurance is not only important to living a safe and secure life, it’s also the law. If you do not have health insurance you may have to pay a fine, and going another year without health insurance could mean paying $325 per uncovered adult, or 2 percent of your income. And that can really add up. If you didn’t have health insurance last year, don’t go another year without it. Take advantage of this special opportunity and sign-up between March 15 and April 30,” Cuellar said.