The clock is ticking for Texans to sign up for health care under the federal Affordable Care Act.
As of today, there are a little more than 80 days left in the open enrollment period to sign up for coverage under the new law. Those who miss the March 31 deadline and remain uninsured could face a fine.
It’s a deadline that Killeen resident Phyllis Jones is painfully aware of.
“It’s challenging, because a lot of people in Texas need health care, but they also have a lot of questions and are looking for information,” Jones said.
Jones, who serves as education chairperson for the Texas State NAACP, is part of an effort to help educate Texans about the Affordable Care Act, and encourage them to enroll.
In December, Jones held an information session at Moss Rose Community Center in Killeen. She outlined the challenges of trying to get the information to those who need it most: uninsured and economically disadvantaged residents.
“They need help,” Jones said at the center. “They need to be educated in the terms and language, and how coverage works.”
21 percent uninsured
Jones said the NAACP has given similar presentations all over Texas, where roughly 24.6 percent of residents, or 6.2 million people, are uninsured. According to a June report from Seton Healthcare, Bell County has an uninsured rate of roughly 21 percent.
Jones said reaching the uninsured may take more than just information. She said people are more likely to sign up if they have someone to answer questions during the process.
“People get impatient,” Jones said. “If someone is sitting there with them, and helps them work though the process, it works out a whole lot better.”
Rhonda Brown, another Killeen resident, agreed. She said she sat down with her 29-year-old son and his wife, and helped them sign up for a health care plan on the website. Even with three of them working together, the process was confusing, she said.
“It was tedious, and we spent quite a bit of time trying to make sure we had all the information we needed,” Brown said.
Brown said her family used the website’s live chat, email and phone hotline, but noted the process was still fairly complex.
“I think (the Affordable Care Act) has some really great stuff for people who aren’t insured,” she said. “But the process can be difficult.”
Jones agreed, and said the key to getting uninsured people enrolled will be face-to-face interaction.
Jones said volunteers recently returned to the Moss Rose Community Center with laptops, and sat with residents to help them sign up at HealthCare.gov.
Speaking Friday, she said her organization plans to organize similar events in the coming weeks.
Referencing the Texas government’s decision to opt out of creating a state-based health insurance marketplace, Jones said it’s up to the community to direct the uninsured to the information and resources they need to enroll.
“If we don’t do it, nobody’s going to do it,” she said.