AUSTIN (KXAN) - Foundation Communities opened an enrollment center at Austin's Highland Mall for the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday. The center is for people who plan to sign up for health coverage through the so-called Marketplace established under the new law.
"Our trained volunteers will be here to answer questions," said Elizabeth Colvin, director of Insure Central Texas. "We have 50 to 70 who have tax training and the training to do the enrollment."
The Highland Mall location is just one center Foundation Communities will roll out next week for people needing insurance information. The others are at Stassney and Westgate and - announced Tuesday after a grant from St. David's - another at Lifeworks in East Austin.
In Washington, Republicans are attempting to eliminate the funding needed to implement the law. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is leading the Republican effort to stop the health care law from taking effect.
In an unusual move on Tuesday, Cruz is trying to stall a vote on a bill that would do exactly what Cruz wants - defund the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. But he is doing so because Senate Democrats had the votes to shut down that bill.
If Cruz is able to stall through Wednesday afternoon, it could keep Democrats from passing a spending bill that includes funding for the ACA. That could set the stage for a government shutdown on Oct. 1st.
Gov. Rick Perry also opposes the law and has instructed the Texas Department of Insurance to put in place rules to require Marketplace volunteers to meet strict qualification standards.
“The safeguards that the governor has requested of TDI ensure that those individuals who have been tasked with handling the private financial and health information of Texans are properly trained and qualified,” said Josh Havens, Perry’s spokesman. “We expect TDI to have these requirements in place and operational by the time the insurance options are available through the exchange on Jan. 1.”
Among the proposed requirements:
- A minimum 40 hours of state training, in addition to the federal training.
- A rigorous exam based on that training.
- Background checks and fingerprints.
- And fees for training and registration.
In a letter this month to the state's insurance commissioner, Perry said, "Because of the nature of navigators' work and because they will be collecting confidential information, including birth dates, social security numbers and financial information, it is imperative that Texas train navigators on the collection and security of such data."
While the governor’s letter refers to the navigators outlined and funded by the federal government, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett said he is concerned those additional requirements could eventually include volunteers like those working at the Highland Mall center.
"Initially, (Perry) referred only to the navigators of which we have too few in Central Texas,” Doggett said. But if you follow the logic of his misinterpretation, it would apply to everyone who wants to provide heath insurance information."
Doggett, a Democrat who has represented parts of Austin in Congress for nearly 20 years, was an early supporter of the health care measure considered the president's signature piece of legislation.
As Texas considers further requirements for affordable care navigators, it's worth noting a recent USA Today report says at least 16 other states already have - or are considering - new laws to do just that.
Sub-freezing temperatures and an approaching upper level disturbance could combine to produce some patchy freezing drizzle or sleet Saturday and early Sunday morning.
Investigators are still trying to figure out who murdered an Austin teacher in Benghazi on Thursday.
Back in June, Governor Rick Perry signed a new law officially letting teachers and students use greetings such as "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hannukah" in school, all without getting in any trouble.
The Round Rock-based computer giant, Dell Inc., is offering some workers voluntary buyouts as it seeks to trim costs and boost productivity.
The Austin Humane Society reopened to the public Friday after closing its doors for six weeks.
Sub-freezing temperatures will continue across much of Central Texas all day Saturday. A second disturbance associated with the winter storm that slammed Texas Thursday and Friday could lead to more freezing precipitation Saturday and …