Beginning Tuesday, Austinites will be able to enroll in the new Health Insurance Marketplace through the Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to as Obamacare. You’ve probably already heard various bits and pieces about the marketplace, but simply put, folks will be able to compare prices and shop for health insurance online, in person or by phone. It is a lot like a travel website, where you are presented with different trip options and costs. In this instance, however, uninsured and underinsured Texans will be able to view a range of private insurance companies, coverage and cost choices, then select the option that best fits their needs and budget.
The opening of the marketplace means that the estimated 200,000 uninsured men, women and children in Travis County will have access to affordable, private health insurance. It also means that families with pre-existing conditions, like cancer, diabetes and even migraines, are now protected against discrimination; they will be able to get coverage. All plans offered through the marketplace will include the basic care people use most – doctor visits, maternity care, hospital stays, well checks, prescriptions and more. And here in Austin, folks are working hard to make enrollment as simple and straightforward as possible.
Austinites who are happy with their current health insurance coverage can stick with their plan. Existing plans will be stronger with new protections, and individuals will not be dropped from their plan if they get sick, nor will they have to pay out of pocket for preventative care services.
As mayor of Austin, I have an overall interest in the health of our residents and am committed to making sure Austinites are receiving the coverage and quality of care that they need. Over the past few months, it has been great to see health professionals and organizations working in harmony to ensure a smooth implementation process. From providing our Austin Public Library employees the necessary information they may need to help library users make informed decisions, to seeing nonprofit groups create and staff enrollment centers where residents can get individualized help, it has been a true team effort.
You may have heard that the Affordable Care Act requires everyone to get covered. While this is true, what you may not know is that financial assistance is available to help make plans more affordable. This works on a sliding scale based on your income, so everyone can now find a plan that fits their budget.
The Affordable Care Act will have a positive impact on the future of so many in our community. Our most vulnerable citizens, our youth, stand to benefit the most. Too many children have fallen through the massive cracks in our health care system, without access to even the most basic benefits like annual checkups. It is estimated that more than 1 million children in the state of Texas are uninsured. We need to enroll our children today, for a healthy and prosperous Texas tomorrow. Under the act, pediatric, dental and vision coverage will all be available for children.
As a veteran, I find it particularly concerning that, according to the Texas Organizing Project, more than 200,000 Texas veterans and their spouses do not have health insurance. This is the highest of any state in the nation. It is a travesty that until now, we have failed to honor their incredible sacrifice by ensuring them access to reasonably priced coverage.
While the wrangling may continue on the national scene, it really has been great to see a grassroots, local effort emerge — to guarantee that enrolling in the marketplace will be an easy process for Austinites. Organizations like Enroll America and Foundation Communities are canvassing our neighborhoods and will be standing by at local health centers to answer questions and help with enrollment applications.
Here in Austin, we are faring better economically than almost any other city in the country. This is good news. Even better news is that after a successful enrollment period, no illness or accident should lead to any family’s economic ruin. Let’s get Austin covered.
If you would like to learn more about the enrollment process, you can call 211 or visit www.healthcare.gov.