Obamacare

The last day of sign-ups for health insurance on the HealthCare.gov website is turning out to have a lot in common with the first: lots of computer problems.

But there are some big differences, too. Back in October the not-ready-for-prime-time website was only able to enroll six people on its first day.

KUT News

Austin nonprofits are trying to sign up as many people as possible before tonight’s deadline to apply for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Insure Central Texas has four enrollment centers in the Austin area. Program director Elizabeth Colvin says the demand for their services is exceeding their capacity; this morning they had 100 people lined up by the time they opened at 6 a.m.

The deadline to begin signing up is 11 p.m. tonight. Colvin advises people to at least start the application this evening, as those who do start then can finish the process at a later time.

Veronica Zaragovia, KUT

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was in Austin today, as part of the final push for people to sign up for health insurance ahead of a Monday deadline. She also came to urge Texas leaders to expand Medicaid eligibility. 

During her comments, Sebelius said although everything is bigger in Texas, having the highest rate of uninsured in the U.S. is nothing to boast about.

To chip away at the roughly 25 percent of Texans without health insurance, Sebelius renewed her call for Texas leaders to expand Medicaid eligibility.  

KUT

The White House says it’s reached its goal of getting six million people signed up for health insurance through the federal marketplace.

But so far, only a fraction of the uninsured in Texas has signed up.

A March 31 deadline looms to at least begin an application for health insurance. Most without insurance after the deadline will have to pay a tax penalty. To help people avoid that, nonprofits in Austin are keeping their doors open late to help last-minute customers.

Next week is the last chance for most people without insurance to sign up for individual health coverage for the remainder of 2014.

Yet according to the latest monthly tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 60 percent of those without coverage still don't know that.

Veronica Zaragovia, KUT News

Less than two weeks remain for people to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Local groups are ramping up their efforts to remind people it's time to sign up or pay a tax penalty. And with little time left, groups working to sign people up for health insurance are branching out to find every last person they can.

At lunchtime on the North Harris campus of Houston's Lone Star Community College, students stream through the lobby of the student services center, plugged into their headphones or rushing to class.

Many walk right past a small information table about the Affordable Care Act.

Veronica Zaragovia, KUT News

This story is a result of a partnership with the Austin-American Statesman’s Tim Eaton and Kelly West. You can find more at Statesman.com.

By the end of March,  all people in the U.S. legally must have health insurance – or pay a tax penalty next year. That includes refugees, who often lack the English skills to understand the ins and outs of the insurance system.

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Governor Perry’s decision not to accept federal expansion of Medicaid in Texas means 687,000 women will be left in a "coverage gap," according to a report by the National Women’s Law Center. Those women are too poor to qualify for Medicaid, but don’t make enough money to be eligible for subsidies on the federal health insurance exchange. 

Medicaid eligibility standards in Texas are among the strictest in the nation. A parent in a family of three must make less than $3,737 annually to qualify (19 percent of the federal poverty level), according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Adults without dependent children are not eligible for Medicaid in Texas. 

Veronica Zaragovia, KUT

Texas now has extra requirements for Affordable Care Act navigators who help consumers find their way around the federally-run health insurance marketplace. 

Beginning at the end of 2013 and lasting through early January, the Texas Department of Insurance listened to public testimony and received more than 300 pages of written comments on the proposed rules.

Ben Philpott/KUT

Texas Senator Ted Cruz was in Austin today speaking at the Texas Public Policy Foundation's annual policy orientation. He spent his time attacking what he sees as a disregard for federal laws by President Obama.

Senator Cruz’s speech to lawmakers, policy wonks and grassroots activists gave several examples of the President using executive authority to supersede federal laws. Pointing specifically to immigration reform, marijuana prosecutions and the Affordable Care Act.

Veronica Zaragovia for KUT News

Texas officials have proposed adding new rules for the so-called "navigators" -- the people who help consumers sign up for health insurance through the federally-run marketplace.

Today, Texas Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber heard comments for and against these rules from the public, including additional hours of training, which some say is political effort to hamper the health insurance law.

The Obama administration announced on Tuesday that former Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene will take over the operation of the troubled HealthCare.gov website.

DelBene will take over for Jeff Zients, who was appointed by President Obama to rescue the site after it launched with crippling problems. Zients, who Obama had turned to in the past to fix sticky issues, had made it clear that he was not going to stay on the job past December.

healthcare.gov

Early technical issues with the new healthcare marketplace, HealthCare.gov, brought serious criticism to an already controversial government initiative. But a new report published by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services suggests that the tides may be turning for Obamacare.

By the end of November, coverage plan enrollment numbers for Texans had jumped to 14,000 – that’s up from 3,000 the month before.

And many more Texans are on their way to enrolling. According to the same report, nearly a quarter of a million Texans have applied for coverage and are waiting to choose a Marketplace plan. Those numbers are actually the second highest in the nation for states that are supported or fully run by a federal (rather than a state-implemented) healthcare Marketplace.

Oregon might be seen as a complete failure or a surprising success when it comes to its health insurance exchange.

One the one hand, the state's website has yet to allow a single person to enroll. That's a big problem for the folks who are hoping to qualify for subsidies and buy insurance that will start Jan. 1.

President Obama announced Thursday that Americans who have had their health insurance plans canceled because of his Affordable Care Act can keep those plans for another year if they wish.

Those cancellations — most effective on Jan. 1 — have sparked intense criticism of the ACA, in part because the president pledged many times that if Americans liked the health plans they had, they wouldn't have to give them up under the terms of his program.

Veronica Zaragovia, KUT

A push to get people to buy health insurance through the federal marketplace has included plenty of visits from federal officials.

Last week, President Barack Obama told an audience of volunteers in Dallas that affordable health insurance is a pretty big deal in this state.

"There’s no state that actually needs this more than Texas," President Obama says. 

flickr.com/lidor

University of North Texas student Angela Quijano didn’t think about health insurance much before the Affordable Care Act. She says she didn’t know how the health insurance system worked and found getting coverage confusing.

Quijano did know one thing, though: she couldn’t go to the doctor because she didn’t have any health insurance.

“Nobody ever really talks about it. My parents basically told me when I had it, or (when) I didn’t have it,” Quijano, a 22-year-old senior majoring in political science, says. “Not too many of us think about it until it comes time to get a yearly checkup or something comes up.”

healthcare.gov

One of the big promises of the Affordable Care Act was that encouraging insurance companies to compete to sell their health plans would drive down prices.

Here in Austin, people who choose to buy health insurance on the federally-run health insurance marketplace have dozens of plans to choose from. Texans in many rural parts of the state will find far fewer. But they're not necessarily more expensive than in urban parts.

Take Loving County. It's pretty rural. According to the Census Bureau, just 71 people were living in this West Texas county in 2012, down from 82 in 2010.

Following a problem-plagued launch of the HealthCare.gov website, the White House on Monday officially announced a six-week extension to sign up for coverage under the law's individual mandate.

The move has been expected since White House Press Secretary Jay Carney acknowledged last week that there was a "disconnect" in the enrollment timeline given the technical issues that have dogged the website.

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