It’s been a week since open enrollment began for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and groups in Austin say they are experiencing a surge in sign-ups.
Health care activists were concerned that new policies from the Trump administration – including budget cuts for outreach and navigators – would lead to a drop in enrollment.
Elizabeth Colvin, the director of Insure Central Texas at Foundation Communities, said her group has been busy helping people in the Austin area get plans. On Wednesday afternoon, Foundation Communities' office in Central Austin was packed.
“This is all health insurance,” Colvin said, motioning to a large group of people sitting in the lobby waiting to speak to one of the group’s insurance navigators.
Colvin said she already sees a big spike in enrollment compared to last year.
“In the first six days of this year, we enrolled about 850 individuals, compared to about 300 individuals last year during the same time period,” she said. “So, we are seeing a big surge, which is wonderful and that’s what we want.”
Colvin and others have been warning people for weeks to sign up earlier. She said she’s glad the effort has worked, because Texans have only six weeks to get a plan this year. The last enrollment period was three months.
Central Health, the county’s hospital taxing district, also has been helping people sign up through a program called Enroll ATX. Officials there report a surge in sign-ups, too.
"Enrollment has doubled in the first seven days compared to last year,” spokesman Ted Burton said.
Curtis Roush, a self-employed musician living in Round Rock, said he signed up for a plan this week because he’ll be traveling soon and didn’t want to miss the short window for getting insurance.
“I had a pretty big health scare,” he said. “I had a heart attack this summer at the age of 33 and with no prior signals that I would have one.”
Roush said health insurance was not something he ever really thought too seriously about, so he was caught off guard.
“You know, I am a nonsmoker, vegetarian, I exercise, I’ve never been overweight,” he said. “It was a total surprise.”
Roush said he feels lucky that he had a plan through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Because of that, he could afford trips to a cardiologist and all his medication.
Roush said he was concerned this year as he watched Republican efforts in Congress to repeal the law.
“Suddenly insurance is a very important thing for me, it’s a critical thing for me,” he said. “And the few times this year where I felt like Obamacare was in jeopardy, it felt like my own personal safety was in jeopardy.”
Roush said he’s relieved those efforts failed and he was able to get insurance again this year. In fact, he got married last weekend and was able to find a plan with his wife. Like a lot of people, their Obamacare tax credit went up, so he’s getting more help to pay for insurance.
“We are going to have better health insurance than last year and be able to save a little more money, so we're in good shape,” he said.
The last day to sign up for a plan is Dec. 15.