clear
Sunday May 3rd, 2015 9:52AM

Some 'red state' cities pushing federal health plan

By The Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) -- The scene in a city-owned building may look like a hurricane has swept through Houston: Nurses giving vaccine shots, people scurrying around with files and papers and officials leaning over computers helping bleary-eyed parents fill out forms as their children munch on free pretzels.

But this is no hurricane. Instead, it is Houston's offensive to reach more than 1 million people across 600 square miles who don't have health insurance and connect them with the new federal health insurance program that began accepting applications this month. The push is happening in one of the nation's reddest states, an example of the gap between the vitriolic political opposition to President Barack Obama's signature initiative in some conservative bastions and the actual response to it by local officials.

"This is the same strategy we use to respond to hurricanes and public health disasters," said Stephen Williams, director of Houston's Department of Health and Human Services, who has organized an effort to sign up as many uninsured people as possible.

Republican governors and legislatures in about two dozen states are refusing cooperation with the roll-out of the health overhaul, but some local governments are trying to fill the gap, working with nonprofit organizations, hospitals and churches leading the outreach.

After receiving only about $600,000 in federal grant money, Williams put together a 13-county coordinating group with other organizations so they could pool funds, resources and data. He also invested about $600,000 from his own budget.

"If you live in Harris County and in the city of Houston you are footing the bill for people that don't have insurance," Williams said. "Regardless of all the rhetoric that is going on, people have better access to care when they are insured."

In Harris County, which paid $585 million this year to treat the uninsured in public hospitals and clinics, about 300 county employees have been trained to assist in the enrollment process. The city has provided staff, office space, laptops, air cards and cellphones. A seven-person call center partly funded by the city fields questions about the program, which aims to register recipients by Dec. 15.

Uninsured people are managing to sign up even though the process has been slowed by technical problems with the federal website. Enrollment totals are not yet available, but the collaborative has contacted more than 3,200 uninsured people since Oct. 1.

"The city has really made this priority No. 1," said Mario Castillo, a regional leader for Enroll America, a nonprofit assisting the national effort.

Texas has the highest rate of uninsured residents in the nation - about 25 percent - and a Republican governor who has been especially hostile to the overhaul dubbed "Obamacare" by critics. In addition to withholding state funds, Gov. Rick Perry has directed the program's trained navigators, who help recipients with the online enrollment, to receive more instruction than required under federal law.

The technical problems are just one sign of the new health system's flaws, Perry's spokeswoman, Lucy Nashed, said in an emailed statement. "Americans are watching Obamacare fall apart with each week that passes."

In Florida, where Republican Gov. Rick Scott has opposed the initiative, the state ordered county health departments to ban navigators from contacting people on their property. But some local officials there are helping with the outreach to the state's 3.5 million uninsured residents.

"We have an obligation to help them do that so they can make up their own minds," said Mayor Kristin Jacobs in Broward County.

The city of Philadelphia is training its home visitation workers and library staff to answer questions about insurance eligibility. In Mississippi, the Health Department is providing educational information.

Nowhere, though, is the local coordination greater than in Houston - a model that Enroll America is hoping to promote elsewhere.

On a recent weekend, residents of a northern Houston neighborhood streamed into an enrollment center to get information. Navigator Susan Cockerham, who was watching a woman fill out the online application, said she has attended six similar events since the rollout began.

Orell Fitzsimmons, a labor union field director, handed out leaflets nearby.

"There are ways to get to people without having the state do it; it just takes longer," he said.

Eunice McDonald, 62, who delivers for Meals on Wheels, said she's had to go to the emergency room four times to treat everything from numbness in her hand to constipation in the last few years.

"I'm hoping to get health insurance," she said, heading to a navigator. "It feels good now that I have the option."

---
© Copyright 2015 AccessNorthGa.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
S&P 500 index has its best year since 1997
The stock market closed out a record year with more all-time highs on Tuesday, giving U.S. indexes their biggest annual gains in almost two decades.
6:56PM ( 1 year ago )
Colorado readies for 'Green Wednesday' pot sales
Police were adding extra patrols around pot shops in eight Colorado towns that plan to allow recreational sales to anyone over 21 on Jan. 1.
1:52PM ( 1 year ago )
Kerry seeks framework for Mideast peace talks
A senior State Department official says Secretary of State John Kerry will try this week to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework for negotiating a final peace agreement, yet cautions against raising expectations for Kerry's latest round of shuttle diplomacy.
1:35PM ( 1 year ago )
U.S. News
Missing Ga. bank director arrested in Brunswick
A bank director accused of losing millions of investors' dollars before vanishing last year was arrested Tuesday during a traffic stop in a city in south Georgia.
7:00PM ( 1 year ago )
Amtrak to suspend some Crescent service in Jan., Feb.
Amtrak service will shut down in parts of the Southeast for several days in January and February for rail maintenance by Norfolk Southern Railway.
9:00AM ( 1 year ago )
Lung cancer scans urged for some smokers, not all
Certain current or former heavy smokers should start getting yearly scans for lung cancer to cut their risk of death from the nation's top cancer killer, government advisers said Monday - even as they stressed that the tests aren't for everyone.
7:26AM ( 1 year ago )
Business News
Sex offender held in Hall County for failing to register
A 47-year-old man was booked into the Hall County Jail Tuesday, being held without bond for allegedly failing to register as a sex offender, his second such arrest.
6:09PM ( 1 year ago )
Pharmacy robberies may involve same suspect
Oakwood Police Tuesday afternoon released details in a pharmacy robbery they're investigating, similar to one that happened in the Hall County Tuesday morning.
5:46PM ( 1 year ago )
Victim critical following apartment fire
A 41-year-old woman was in critical but stable condition Tuesday after being rescued from an apartment fire in Forsyth County late Monday afternoon.
3:16PM ( 1 year ago )
Local/State News
Feeling US snub, Saudis strengthen ties elsewhere
Increasingly vocal in its frustration over U.S. policies in the Mideast, Saudi Arabia is strengthening ties elsewhere, seeking out an alignment that will bolster its position after it was pushed to the sidelines this year.
4:34PM ( 1 year ago )
NSA reportedly intercepts computer deliveries
A German magazine has lifted the lid on the operations of the National Security Agency's hacker unit, revealing how American spies intercepted computer deliveries, exploited hardware vulnerabilities, and even hijacked Microsoft's bug report system to spy on their targets.
12:31PM ( 1 year ago )
Rockets fired from Lebanon into Israel
Rockets from Lebanon struck northern Israel on Sunday, causing no injuries but sparking an Israeli reprisal shelling in a rare flare-up between the two countries.
12:26PM ( 1 year ago )
Politics
Obama again avoids calling 1915 Armenian killings 'genocide'
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will once again stop short of calling the 1915 massacre of Armenians a genocide, prompting anger and disappointment from those who have been pushing him to ful...
1:00PM ( 1 week ago )
Ex-NFL star Hernandez convicted of murder, sentenced to life
FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) — Former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for a deadly late-night shooting, sealing the d...
8:54PM ( 2 weeks ago )
Clinton kicks off 2016 campaign online, heads next to Iowa
WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton jumped back into presidential politics on Sunday, making a much-awaited announcement she will again seek the White House with a promise to serve as the "champi...
7:56PM ( 2 weeks ago )
Hall, White, Jefferson schools recognized nationally for use of technology
Three school districts in northeast Georgia - Hall, White, and Jefferson - have received national recognition for their use use of innovative technologies. They earned top spots in the Center for Digital Education's and the National School Boards Association's 10th annual Digital School Districts Survey.
By Staff
1:00PM ( 2 weeks ago )
US Capitol lockdown lifted after man fatally shoots himself
WASHINGTON (AP) — A precautionary lockdown of the U.S. Capitol was lifted after about two hours Saturday following a suicide by a man carrying a protest sign.The man died after shooting himself on the...
6:15PM ( 3 weeks ago )