U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius came to Austin Thursday to push the new insurance program some call Obamacare.
It is the federally-run insurance marketplace made possible by the Affordable Care Act. She met with Central Texas health care leaders, hoping they can help patients understand how the system works.
"I think people will have a lot of choices,” Sebelius said. “They'll be able to for the first time ever to look at a website or have help from a navigator to compare plans side by side. They will never again be locked out because of a pre-existing condition."
She said those who say the plans are driving up the cost of health insurance are not correct.
State Officials Weigh In
Gov. Rick Perry had a less-than-welcoming message for Sebelius.
"In Texas, we've been fighting Obamacare from the beginning, refusing to expand a broken Medicaid system and declining to set up a state health insurance exchange,” Perry said in a statement. “We took these steps to minimize the damage Obamacare will cause to our economy and state budget.”
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott - who is running for Texas governor - repeated Thursday that Obamacare needs to be repealed. He said fears about the number of uninsured people in Texas are overblown.
“Just because someone may be uninsured doesn't mean they don't have access to health care,” Abbott said. “The percentage of people in the state of Texas with access to health care is in the mid to high 90-percent range.”
He refused to say whether he agrees with some lawmakers who have talked about shutting down the federal government in their quest to get rid of Obamacare.
Local Impact of Insurance Changes
Kerbey Lane Cafe is what the government calls a large employer – five locations in Austin with 450 employees. CEO Mason Ayer says they already offer healthcare insurance to their fulltime workers.
But with federal healthcare changes around the corner, he is faced with switching to another kind of coverage.
"How many of our employees are going to want insurance?” Ayer asked.
He said you probably will not see an increase in the price of your food. But Ayer said he also knows his restaurant business’s own payments will go up – but by how much?
"We really can't predict what our overall cost will be going into 2015, but we do know it's going to go up some,” he said.
Dr. Steve Margolin of the Family Care Center agreed there are still a lot of unknowns.
"In October, we'll hear what insurance companies will be offering plans on the exchanges,” Margolin said of the date open enrollment for the coverage will begin.
Until then, his patients have questions, but answers are scarce.
"As a small group here, how do we fit into that scheme?” he asked.
It is also a waiting game for Ayer. On top of his costs, his workers want to know where they fit, too.
"It's going to be a matter of educating them, providing more information,” Ayer said.
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