SAN ANTONIO (AP) – Despite drizzling weather, people seeking health insurance under the Affordable Care Act streamed into some Texas enrollment centers Sunday, the final day they could sign up this year.
Enrollment SA, a coalition of San Antonio health professionals, nonprofits and government agencies, has been intensely targeted by the coalition through Spanish-language newspaper ads along with radio and TV spots.
The coalition kept three centers open on Sunday to help people navigate the exchanges and find insurance. By mid-afternoon, the centers had attended to some 70 families, with more still expected, though organizers said they were unlikely to see the long lines of 2014.
"It's definitely less than last year that we are helping in person," said Joe A. Ibarra, a South Texas regional organizer for Enroll America. "But enrollment numbers across the board are up."
He said that the coalition anticipates that about 46,000 new consumers will have signed up for insurance during this enrollment period, which means that more than 100,000 people in and around Bexar County will have received insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Ibarra estimates the number of uninsured in Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, at between 200,000 and 300,000.
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More than 75 percent of uninsured people in Bexar County are Latino, said Andrea Guajardo, director of community health at Christus Santa Rosa Health System. Latinos here suffer high rates of chronic illnesses, including diabetes and heart disease. When these are left untreated, health care costs can skyrocket as drastic interventions such as amputations or vascular surgery may be needed.
"The more people we can get access to regular care," said Guajardo, "the less will be their need to come into the emergency rooms when they are in crisis."
But prevention is not always an easy sell. Camilo Ramos, a 48-year-old construction worker, needed to be convinced that he, his wife and their 19-year-old son would benefit from signing up for a plan costing them $22 a month.
"It's super affordable," said Cynthia Delapena, who was helping sign them up at an enrollment center northeast of San Antonio. "But it was like I practically had to sell them a new car."
Others were happy to have help navigating the intricacies of the plans and their pricing. At San Antonio College, 29-year-old Daniel Urrutia, who works a part-time job sorting packages for UPS, said that he had tried signing up on his own but had shaved about $100 from his monthly rate with the help of a coalition member. "This is actually the first time I've ever had insurance," he said.
Urrutia came to the center with his sister, Iris Urrutia, who also signed up for a plan. She works part-time bringing Boy Scouts of America programs to schools in poor neighborhoods. She had recently suffered a severe sore throat and, without insurance, could not afford to see a doctor. She wasn't going to take that chance again, she said.