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Plans To Shut Down Sendero, Austin's Nonprofit Health Insurance Company, Are On Hold – For Now

Gabriel C. Pérez
Clients and advocates of Sendero hold a press conference outside the Travis County Commissioners Court in response to Central Health's decision to end the health care plan.

Travis County commissioners have decided to push back a decision on whether Central Health should shut down its nonprofit health insurance company, known as Sendero. They said they will wait to vote until there is a public hearing.

At a meeting Tuesday, commissioners heard testimony from members of the public who were opposed to Central Health’s recent decision to end its insurance plans at the end of this year. Central Health is the entity that pays for health care services for low-income people within the city’s hospital taxing district, so commissioners have final say over its budget.

Central Health created Sendero in 2012. It was supposed to help people who could not afford existing plans in the health insurance market. However, members of the board of managers voted last week to end the service. They said financial issues and the instability of the insurance market led to the decision.

Commissioner Margaret Gomez said she was worried Central Health would be “leaving people behind” if it shut down Sendero plans.

“To me that’s not living up to the mission to why the voters created Central Health – and that’s to take care of the indigent and near-poor,” she said.

About 24,000 people have health plans through Sendero. Central Health officials say if Sendero stops selling plans at the end of this year, those people will have the option of buying new plans through the Obamacare marketplace.

When asked what the financial implications would be for those individuals, Central Health President and CEO Mike Geeslin told commissioners, “it really depends on the person.”

“They may have an option that is a few dollars less than what they are paying in Sendero now or they may have option … that is a whole lot more per month,” Geeslin said. “Maybe triple digits.”

People with Sendero plans spoke at the commissioners meeting and urged them not to approve Central Health’s plans.

One woman, Chia Guillory, said she relied on her Sendero insurance plan while she was battling “a very aggressive and fast-growing cancer” this past year. She said she wasn’t able to afford a health plan until Sendero plans were on the market.

“If I had not been insured, I wouldn’t be here today,” Guillory said. “I truly believe that.”

Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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