A lot of attention has gone to the relatively few counties that may not have an insurer next year in the individual marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act. In most of the country, however, marketplace enrollees will have options.
That’s especially true in Central Texas, where folks looking to buy insurance are going to have even more insurers to choose from.
In the Austin area, people will soon be able to buy a plan from a company called Oscar Health Insurance. Described as a sort of health insurance startup, the technology-focused company has only been around since 2012.
“I like to say we're a new kind of health insurance company,” says Kyle Estep, Oscar's Texas market director.
Estep describes Oscar like a startup – as a way of solving an old problem with innovation.
“For us, it comes down to helping people navigate this incredibly complex health care system we have in America,” he says. "We do that by making it smarter and simpler."
Estep says that includes a team of “care guides” and nurses available via email, text or phone call.
Oscar covers telemedicine, which is basically remote access to a doctor, and consumers can book appointments through an app. The model could have a lot of appeal in a tech-savvy place like Austin.
The potential clientele here also probably drove Oscar to Austin, says Elizabeth Colvin, director of Insure Central Texas at the Foundation Communities. The nonprofit helps people sign up for insurance through the marketplace.
“Austin is very much a place where you can be self-employed or work in the gig economy,” she says. “So, there are a lot of people in Austin and Central Texas who don’t get insurance through their employer, and that’s the candidate who is going to be able to get insurance through the marketplace.”
Colvin says it helps that the customer base keeps growing as people move here.
Central Texas is a good location for Oscar, Estep says, because the markets here have been more stable than in other parts of the country.
“I think part of that is the business climate in Texas,” he says. “I think the growth is also a factor."
Oscar was able to partner with big health networks like Seton hospitals and Baylor Scott & White Health, he adds, creating "a great opportunity for us to enter the Austin market.”
Whether consumers choose to get their health plans through this new insurer or not, greater competition has been shown to improve health plans overall.
“What we have seen in Austin is that the competition here has made the plans better,” Colvin says. “The networks in all of these plans has expanded significantly over the past four years.”
Oscar plans to start selling health plans in Travis, Williamson and Hays counties during open enrollment Nov. 1.