Obamacare

Veronica Zaragovia, KUT News

Less than two weeks remain for people to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Local groups are ramping up their efforts to remind people it's time to sign up or pay a tax penalty. And with little time left, groups working to sign people up for health insurance are branching out to find every last person they can.

At lunchtime on the North Harris campus of Houston's Lone Star Community College, students stream through the lobby of the student services center, plugged into their headphones or rushing to class.

Many walk right past a small information table about the Affordable Care Act.

Veronica Zaragovia, KUT News

This story is a result of a partnership with the Austin-American Statesman’s Tim Eaton and Kelly West. You can find more at Statesman.com.

By the end of March,  all people in the U.S. legally must have health insurance – or pay a tax penalty next year. That includes refugees, who often lack the English skills to understand the ins and outs of the insurance system.

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Governor Perry’s decision not to accept federal expansion of Medicaid in Texas means 687,000 women will be left in a "coverage gap," according to a report by the National Women’s Law Center. Those women are too poor to qualify for Medicaid, but don’t make enough money to be eligible for subsidies on the federal health insurance exchange. 

Medicaid eligibility standards in Texas are among the strictest in the nation. A parent in a family of three must make less than $3,737 annually to qualify (19 percent of the federal poverty level), according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Adults without dependent children are not eligible for Medicaid in Texas. 

Veronica Zaragovia, KUT

Texas now has extra requirements for Affordable Care Act navigators who help consumers find their way around the federally-run health insurance marketplace. 

Beginning at the end of 2013 and lasting through early January, the Texas Department of Insurance listened to public testimony and received more than 300 pages of written comments on the proposed rules.

Ben Philpott/KUT

Texas Senator Ted Cruz was in Austin today speaking at the Texas Public Policy Foundation's annual policy orientation. He spent his time attacking what he sees as a disregard for federal laws by President Obama.

Senator Cruz’s speech to lawmakers, policy wonks and grassroots activists gave several examples of the President using executive authority to supersede federal laws. Pointing specifically to immigration reform, marijuana prosecutions and the Affordable Care Act.

Veronica Zaragovia for KUT News

Texas officials have proposed adding new rules for the so-called "navigators" -- the people who help consumers sign up for health insurance through the federally-run marketplace.

Today, Texas Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber heard comments for and against these rules from the public, including additional hours of training, which some say is political effort to hamper the health insurance law.

The Obama administration announced on Tuesday that former Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene will take over the operation of the troubled HealthCare.gov website.

DelBene will take over for Jeff Zients, who was appointed by President Obama to rescue the site after it launched with crippling problems. Zients, who Obama had turned to in the past to fix sticky issues, had made it clear that he was not going to stay on the job past December.

healthcare.gov

Early technical issues with the new healthcare marketplace, HealthCare.gov, brought serious criticism to an already controversial government initiative. But a new report published by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services suggests that the tides may be turning for Obamacare.

By the end of November, coverage plan enrollment numbers for Texans had jumped to 14,000 – that’s up from 3,000 the month before.

And many more Texans are on their way to enrolling. According to the same report, nearly a quarter of a million Texans have applied for coverage and are waiting to choose a Marketplace plan. Those numbers are actually the second highest in the nation for states that are supported or fully run by a federal (rather than a state-implemented) healthcare Marketplace.

Oregon might be seen as a complete failure or a surprising success when it comes to its health insurance exchange.

One the one hand, the state's website has yet to allow a single person to enroll. That's a big problem for the folks who are hoping to qualify for subsidies and buy insurance that will start Jan. 1.

President Obama announced Thursday that Americans who have had their health insurance plans canceled because of his Affordable Care Act can keep those plans for another year if they wish.

Those cancellations — most effective on Jan. 1 — have sparked intense criticism of the ACA, in part because the president pledged many times that if Americans liked the health plans they had, they wouldn't have to give them up under the terms of his program.

How Obamacare Supporters Are Enrolling Texas Latinos

Nov 12, 2013
Veronica Zaragovia, KUT

A push to get people to buy health insurance through the federal marketplace has included plenty of visits from federal officials.

Last week, President Barack Obama told an audience of volunteers in Dallas that affordable health insurance is a pretty big deal in this state.

"There’s no state that actually needs this more than Texas," President Obama says. 

flickr.com/lidor

University of North Texas student Angela Quijano didn’t think about health insurance much before the Affordable Care Act. She says she didn’t know how the health insurance system worked and found getting coverage confusing.

Quijano did know one thing, though: she couldn’t go to the doctor because she didn’t have any health insurance.

“Nobody ever really talks about it. My parents basically told me when I had it, or (when) I didn’t have it,” Quijano, a 22-year-old senior majoring in political science, says. “Not too many of us think about it until it comes time to get a yearly checkup or something comes up.”

healthcare.gov

One of the big promises of the Affordable Care Act was that encouraging insurance companies to compete to sell their health plans would drive down prices.

Here in Austin, people who choose to buy health insurance on the federally-run health insurance marketplace have dozens of plans to choose from. Texans in many rural parts of the state will find far fewer. But they're not necessarily more expensive than in urban parts.

Take Loving County. It's pretty rural. According to the Census Bureau, just 71 people were living in this West Texas county in 2012, down from 82 in 2010.

Following a problem-plagued launch of the HealthCare.gov website, the White House on Monday officially announced a six-week extension to sign up for coverage under the law's individual mandate.

The move has been expected since White House Press Secretary Jay Carney acknowledged last week that there was a "disconnect" in the enrollment timeline given the technical issues that have dogged the website.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

With all of the attention on the health care marketplace website problems, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was in Austin today for some damage control. 

Sebelius went to CommUnityCare’s East Austin Health Center, where she promised that problems with healthcare.gov and its Spanish-language version will get fixed.

She also praised mayors across Texas for supporting Medicaid expansion, and urged state leaders to join them.

"I’m hoping that Texas takes another look at that opportunity because there will be millions of people still left on the side of the road with no affordable options," Sebelius said.

A subcontractor that built a portion of the HealthCare.gov website that's now working relatively well is being promoted to oversee a thorough revamping of the entire glitch-prone portal, and work will be done by the end of next month, the White House says.

(Click here to jump to our latest updates — including a Democrat accusing Republicans of holding a "monkey court.")

Republicans in the House have framed the central question they want answered about the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act this way, NPR's Ailsa Chang said Thursday on Morning Edition:

In the mid-1970’s, Eugene Robinson began his career in journalism. He joined The Washington Post in the '80's, covering domestic and foreign affairs before moving on to a managing editor post.

More recently, Robinson's become known nationally as a Pulitzer prize-winning columnist and contributor to MSNBC. Prior to his appearance at the University of Texas to deliver this year's Mary Alice Davis Distinguished Lecture in Journalism, Robinson stopped by the KUT studios to talk about the current political climate and how the politics of Texas – and healthcare – factor into it. 

KUT News

It’s been a full week since the opening of the health insurance marketplaces created through the Affordable Care Act. But only certain people qualify to buy insurance through that system.

Immigrants must be “lawfully present” to qualify to buy through the marketplace. That includes Green Card holders, refugees, Cuban or Haitian immigrants, people on worker and student visas and victims of human trafficking. But the 1.5 million undocumented immigrants estimated to live Texas are not included.

Veronica Zaragovia for KUT News

Austin officials and health advocates expressed excitement for the launch of the federally-run health insurance marketplace today. But they are also reminding people that outreach efforts have a long way to go.

“It is our responsibility to get the word out," said Central Health’s Rosie Mendoza during a press conference at United Way. "It’s everyone’s responsibility here today to help us do that.”

healthcare.gov

Today marks the opening of the Affordable Care Act’s federal health insurance marketplace – healthcare.gov.

Beginning today, consumers can begin purchasing health insurance plans, with coverage beginning Jan. 1. It’s a signature component of the insurance changes collectively known as "Obamacare."

KUT has been covering the run-up to today’s marketplace opening. Here’s some answers to common questions about the marketplace: the types of coverage offered, how to navigate the marketplace and more, including an interactive guide.

KUT News

The Affordable Care Act’s federal health insurance marketplace opens in Texas tomorrow. Workers known as navigators will help Texans sign up for health insurance. But these navigators are at the center of a political debate in Texas. 

Gov. Rick Perry recently directed the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) to come up with more training and regulations for navigators. He based his directive on a new law authored by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, called Senate Bill 1795. 

Two high-profile Texans are fighting the Affordable Care Act.

Gov. Rick Perry has loudly dismissed the law, and fellow Republican Sen. Ted Cruz took to the Senate floor this week to rail against it at length — 21 hours and 19 minutes to be exact.

On the other side of the issue, you have Rosy Mota and her clipboard, standing at the door of a CVS pharmacy in one of Houston's Latino neighborhoods, stopping shoppers.

Update at noon ET. It's Over:

Saying that "it's fitting that this debate concludes with a prayer" because he believes Americans are pleading with Congress to defund President Obama's health care law, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas just wrapped up his marathon protest on the Senate floor.

Cruz began speaking just after 2:40 p.m. ET Tuesday and abided by Senate rules when he finished at noon today.

"The pleas from the American people," he said of what he sees as the public's opposition to Obamacare, "are deafening."

Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has released preliminary costs for health insurance in the marketplaces opened under the Affordable Care Act.

The marketplaces are slated to open Oct. 1. These numbers are expected to change in the coming months after the marketplaces open, and before the Affordable Care Act goes into effect on Jan. 1.

Veronica Zaragovia for KUT News

The federal government is spending millions to promote new health insurance plans being sold through online marketplaces as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Ted Cruz Calls on Texans to Oppose Obamacare

Aug 22, 2013
Veronica Zaragovia for KUT News

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is spending some time in Texas as the August recess winds down. Today’s stops included a visit to National Instruments in Austin, where he’s calling for people to join his effort against the Affordable Care Act. 

He's urging the public to sign an online petition aimed at influencing members of the U.S. Congress to vote to get Obamacare defunded in a government appropriations bill.

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