Houston Healthcare Sign-Up Helps Clear-Up Confusion

It goes without saying that it's been a rough start for the health insurance marketplace, a key part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. A balky website and confused consumers have created gridlock in many cases for people trying to sign-up for the marketplace. Here in Harris County, leaders for hoping big enrollment drives like one over the weekend at the George R. Brown Convention Center will help get Obamacare rolling after a shaky start.

"Next please. You need Spanish speaking? She'll take you. Thank you."

On the third floor of the convention center, a volunteer with a clipboard steers people past privacy screens and into an area where more than 100 so-called navigators are getting people signed-up for the health insurance marketplace.

Anna Contrares is here with her mother Maria.

"Everybody has a lot of questions, but not enough answers."

Contrares says her mother wants to get some of her family off her insurance and onto their own policies.

"They need the insurance and it's getting expensive for her to carry my dad and my brother and my sister on her insurance."

It's a common theme here, lines of people with questions about how to get signed-up. Navigators are using paper applications, the government website and a telephone hotline to get people enrolled. Mario Castillo is with Enroll America and is one of the organizers of the sign-up effort. 

"Initially everyone was pushing the website, then the website was giving us trouble, so then we started going to paper applications and to phones and now we're going back to the website. It created a lot of confusion for people, so what was already confusing has become more confusing and so that creates a need for us to be out in the community even more making sure that people are getting their questions answered and know all their options and have all the information they need to get enrolled."

Congressman Gene Green represents large parts of Harris County, including low income areas where almost half of workers have jobs with no health insurance. He says he needs his constituents to invest in their healthcare.

"We want more people to have a buy-in into the system. This will cost them some money, but they will at least be buying in and they can develop a health-medical relationship with a physician. For example, someone shows up in one of our emergency rooms with a diabetic episode. That could have been easily dealt with by having a regular relationship with a doctor to monitor your diabetes."

"Hola." 

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez is on a mission too.

He's here apologizing for the false start, greeting people in line to sign-up for the health insurance marketplace.

"It's a marathon fortunately, it's not a sprint. There is still ample time to enroll. The opportunities to enroll in many cases at the cost of what you pay for your cell phone bill each month are remarkable opportunities to provide security in your life in terms of health security that oftentimes you haven't had."

Officials here in Houston and Harris County say they'll continue to hold events like this with the hope that more residents who don't have health insurance soon will.

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...