As Enrollment Deadline Nears, Self-Employed Austinites Get Signed Up

Jan 29, 2016

Sunday is the last day to buy health insurance for 2016 on the federal health insurance exchange.

Austin’s freelancers, contractors and musicians are among those taking the most advantage of the program.

Rodney Flores is sitting at a foldable table in a small lunchroom at Austin Community College’s Rio Grande Campus. He’s hoping to help people sign up for health insurance before the deadline.

“I tell my team this is the time when we earn our paycheck,” says Flores.

He says it’s unlikely he’ll get a lot of signups here on campus – most college students are on their parents’ insurance plan until they turn 26.

But Flores says there’s a subset of Austin’s population that he sees signing up in large numbers.

“There’s a lot of people that are self-employed,” he says – like musicians, for example.

And then he says there are Austin’s growing number of entrepreneurs , who often are also self-employed.

“In fact, we have a meeting this coming Monday with a small business – with a startup,” Flores says.

Self-employed folks probably stand to benefit the most from the exchange. Walt Whitlow from Volente, who describes himself as “a self-employed construction guy,” is a good example.

Whitlow went about 15 years without health insurance. Then he found out about the exchange, and he learned he’d get tax credits to help him pay for his premiums.

“It seemed like a good idea, and it was affordable,” Whitlow says. “So I went for it and was diagnosed a couple months later with cancer, so it basically saved my butt.”

But, the exchange is just one piece of the Affordable Care Act coverage puzzle: Because state lawmakers haven’t expanded Medicaid in Texas, uninsured rates are still high.

New estimates from the Kaiser Family Foundation show Texas has the highest number of uninsured residents nationwide: nearly 4.5 million people.

Estimates for the number of uninsured in Travis County are around 200,000.

Until Sunday though, musicians, startup employees, entrepreneurs and self-employed construction guys – and gals – can still sign up on the federal insurance exchange.