Enrollment begins for Obamacare

Before the insurance Marketplace opened for business Tuesday, phones were already ringing in a large downstairs room at the United Way headquarters in East Austin.

Last week about 150 people a day were dialing 2-1-1 to get information about the centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act. That number doubled Monday in the Call Center. Things got even busier Tuesday, while just down the hall local health care advocates, celebrated the official launch of the enrollment process.

"This is a game changing innovation," said TX Senator Kirk Watson (D) Austin.

According to Senator Watson, about 20 different agencies and non-profits are helping open a door that's been closed for many.

"All of us know people that will benefit, all of us know people who will benefit," Senator Watson.

At times the government website Tuesday was overwhelmed, which made assistance centers like one in Highland Mall even more important. Lisa Byrd was among those who came to see if they qualify for a tax credits to lower the cost of premiums.

"The last time I had medical insurance I think the monthly policy was $500 a month," said Byrd.

Its estimated 100,000 people in Travis County may be eligible for payment assistance.

In theory, every person who enrolls is one less person who uses the ER as their own personal doctor's office, and that could provide have a much broader community impact.

"If we get more people insured what will happen is there will be additional funding in this community for increased and enhanced services, for the entire community not just for those who are uninsured," said Rosie Mendoza with Central Health.

The law has already helped those with pre-existing medical conditions, people like Frank Rodriguez, who up until two years ago was not even able to buy insurance.

"There were no premium subsidies, I didn't need those, I just needed the insurance," said Rodriguez.

Because the law made it possible to get coverage Rodriguez told those at enrollment kickoff Tuesday his doctor made an early cancer diagnosis.

"If I hadn't done that last year, I probably wouldn't be around to be at this event today," said Rodriguez.

With about 80 different policy options to consider program managers admit the challenge for most may be finding the right plan.

"All I want to add to everything that's been said is, if you don't have health insurance, go shop," said Walter Moreau with Foundation Communities.

Not everyone will qualify to tap into the Marketplace tax credits they may be covered under Medicare. Or an employer provided plan that's considered to be affordable or they do not meet the minimum income level for the tax credit. Open enrollment ends in March.

As open enrollment began in the Insurance Marketplace, The Texas Department of Insurance issued tips on how to avoid insurance scams:

To verify if a navigator or counselor is certified by the federal government, call the federal marketplace at 1-800-318-2596 or visit www.healthcare.gov.

• Beware of phony health insurance websites or exchanges set up by scammers to collect your personal information. Make sure the insurance company you buy from actually exists and is licensed.

• Don't be pressured into changing coverage. If you already have health insurance through your employer or through Medicaid, Medicare, CHIP, or TRICARE, you are not required to change plans.

• Be cautious of unsolicited emails, phone calls, letters, or anyone who comes to your house uninvited. Do not give your Social Security number or personal information to anyone you didn't contact. This includes responding to phone calls, letters, or emails.

• Ask questions if you don't understand something and take notes. Write down the names of the people you talk to and what they tell you. Get their phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses.

• Make sure the insurance you're buying meets your needs. Some insurance policies include only limited benefits.

• Take your time to decide. Don't buy anything from anyone who tries to talk you into making a quick decision.

• Don't be pressured into buying coverage. No one should call you or bill you for a tax penalty. You are not required to have an insurance card. You can't go to jail for not having insurance.

• Don't sign anything you haven't read and don't fully understand.

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