Texas Obamacare enrollments, renewals near 1.2 million

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When Lisa McCarter’s job relocated to Georgia last year without her, she lost her health insurance and her peace of mind.

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Shopping for health coverage during the 2015 open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act, the 51-year-old Spring woman found a plan that includes the doctor at Kelsey-Sebold Clinic she used under her employer-based plan. At $181 a month, McCarter’s coverage isn’t cheap, but it meets her needs.

“Everyone needs health insurance,” she said Wednesday. “You don’t know what’s going to happen. You could be stuck with high medical bills that could set you back for life.”

McCarter was one of nearly 1.2 million Texans who signed up or were re-enrolled in health coverage before open enrollment ended Sunday. The newly released numbers show Texas ranking behind only Florida in the number of people it signed up or re-enrolled in coverage among the 37 states that rely on the federal health insurance marketplace to sell insurance plans, federal officials said Wednesday. Florida signed up or re-enrolled about 1.6 million.

“When was the last time this many people became insured?” asked Elena Marks, president and CEO of Houston’s Episcopal Health Foundation and a nonresident health policy fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute. “It is almost double the number who signed up last year.”

Finishing applications

About 150,000 consumers who were waiting to buy marketplace coverage and those who had technical problems while completing their applications as the open enrollment ended Sunday will have until Monday to finish enrolling.

Burwell said she hasn’t decided whether to open a special enrollment period for consumers who realize they face a penalty for being uninsured as they file their 2014 federal income taxes.

Many first-timers

Texas’ enrollment figure indicates about 500,000 residents might have bought marketplace insurance for the first time. Last year, nearly 734,000 Texans bought coverage during the marketplace’s inaugural open enrollment period.

According to the national insurance advocacy group Get Covered America, more than 317,000 Houston-area residents bought or were re-enrolled in 2015 marketplace insurance coverage.

“The fact that more than 180,000 Texans enrolled in the final nine days of the open enrollment period shows that people want and need an affordable and quality health care plan,” Mimi Garcia, Get Covered America’s Texas director, said in a written statement.

An insurance believer

Houstonian Aurora Harris, 26, shared her insurance story during Counihan’s news conference. Harris, a senior outreach navigator for Houston’s Lesbian Health Initiative, has tried to encourage people to sign up for coverage and spoke last year at a news conference at Houston Community College’s central campus.

Harris, who first bought coverage in 2014, said she learned to appreciate having health insurance after watching her uninsured mother suffer from lupus, an autoimmune disease. She said she sought enrollment assistance and now tries to help others.

“The biggest thing was really understanding insurance,” Harris said. “I had a lack of insurance literacy.”

Counihan said he wants to include more tools, including an insurance dictionary, to improve the marketplace before 2016 enrollment begins.

“There are all kinds of opportunities to do things better,” he said. “No one is saying this was a perfect experience.”