By Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson,30th Congressional District of Texas
DALLAS — On October 1st, the health insurance exchange, a critical part of the Affordable Care Act, will launch in Texas, giving nearly 6 million uninsured Texans and businesses the opportunity to purchase reasonably priced health insurance.
The exchange will be operated by federal officials, given that Texas Governor Rick Perry has refused to establish one because of his opposition to legislation that is designed to provide coverage to the nearly 30 million uninsured Americans. The exchange will not act as an insurance company. It will, however, decide which insurance companies participate in the plan. It will seek to maximize the number of people who enroll. Additionally, it will promote transparency among insurers and promote fairness for consumers.
In August the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded nearly $11 million to non-profits in Texas to hire “navigators” who will help uninsured Texans understand the various options that will be available in the exchange. Navigators will also help consumers who are eligible to receive financial subsidies that will be available.
Applications for insurance will be available on Oct. 1, 2013, and coverage will begin January 1, 2014. The open enrollment for the program ends March 31, 2014. Texas will witness the largest percentage gain of any other state if it fully implements health care reform, according to researchers at Rice University in Houston. According to the Texas Hospital Association, providing health care for the uninsured in Texas cost taxpayers and businesses nearly $5 billion in 2010.
The Affordable Care Act and it various components are designed to significantly lower that amount by providing insurance to the uninsured. The idea of an exchange is not new. Members of Congress and federal employees have participated in such a program since 1960. Private health insurance exchanges also exist in our country and participating businesses and individuals have experienced lower insurance costs while receiving quality care. I would suggest that those who oppose the Affordable Care Act and the concept of exchanges witness the experience with health care in Massachusetts. The exchange concept is based on the model used in Massachusetts called the Health Connector, which assists people and small businesses that are searching for affordable insurance. The law was enacted in 2006 when former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was Governor. Nearly 300,000 previously uninsured people now have insurance because of the legislation. In fact, Massachusetts has the lowest percentage of uninsured people in the entire nation.
The Affordable Care Act and the exchanges will bring about vitally necessary changes in our state. As your representative in Congress who fought hard to enact this sensible piece of legislation, I urge you to spread the word about the exchanges through your churches, neighborhood organizations, and networks so that all of our citizens can have the peace of mind that comes with having health insurance for themselves and their families.