AUSTIN -- Austin singer and songwriter Guy Forsyth says unexpected illness can leave the uninsured, no matter their musical talents, quickly singing the blues.
"The same thing that happens if you're a construction worker and you get sick. You can't work. And if you can't work, there's no system set up that's going to take care of you," said Forsyth. "I'm an individual contractor. I'm also an employer. So if I get sick or I get injured, not only am I not going to work, but the people that I would have employed don't get to work either."
With open enrollment for the national Health Insurance Marketplace beginning October 1, volunteers with Insure Central Texas are preparing to guide the area's roughly 120,000 eligible uninsured through the process.
"We'll have 19 work stations set up over here, cubicles where our volunteers will be working," Insure Central Texas Director Elizabeth Colvin told KVUE, pointing around a former bookstore inside Highland Mall, which will serve as one of two enrollment centers in the Austin area. Colvin says 70 volunteers, many of them veterans of parent organization Foundation Communities' free tax filing service, will soon begin work.
After receiving $11 million in federal grants for full time health care "navigators" to help enroll people in the program, Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) drew criticism from many on left by requiring strict training rules in addition to federal requirements for navigators working in Texas. Operating separately from the state, Insure Central Texas relies on volunteers rather the navigators.
"Our volunteers have gone through the online federal training plus received supplemental training from us, and plus they have this tax expertise so they already know the dependents, the household size, filing status, all of those things," said Colvin. "They understand how the tax credits work. All of that really gives them the ability to help people walk through this enrollment form and navigate this new system, although they're not navigators."
Speaking to media after the enrollment center's unveiling, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) called Perry's additional training requirements for navigators "absolutely outrageous," adding that they would not go into effect until next year. Doggett suggested the use of volunteers may not insulate Insure Central Texas against the additional navigator requirements.
"It's unclear," said Doggett. "Under [Perry's] broad interpretation, initially he referred only to the navigators, of which we have too few in Central Texas. But if you follow the logic of his misinterpretation, it would apply to everyone who wants to provide health insurance assistance and information."
Meanwhile in the nation's capital, Sen. Ted Cruz launched into a de facto filibuster Tuesday afternoon to block funding for the Affordable Care Act. With Senate Democrats expected to strip language defunding the health care law from a budget measure passed by the House, Cruz has urged fellow Republicans to block a procedural "cloture" vote to take up the issue. Both chambers have until the end of the week to reach a budget agreement in order to avoid a government shutdown.
"If it is the Majority Leader's intent to fund Obamacare using just 51 votes, then I would submit to every Republican in this body it is our obligation to our constituents to do everything we can to prevent the Majority Leader from funding Obamacare with just 51 votes," Cruz began his remarks. "Any member of this body that votes for cloture on this bill will be voting to allow the Majority Leader to fund Obamacare on 51 votes. I think that vote's a mistake. I think that vote disserves our constituents. I think that vote hurts the people of America."
"Ultimately the government has to operate. There are vital functions that have to be approved," said Doggett. "Even if we have a shutdown for a few days, we will continue to have the Affordable Care Act. They cannot stop it, and as Americans become invested in it, they will not stop it."
"I think much of what is at stake here is not about Obamacare or access to health insurance. It is the fear of some on the extreme right that a government program will actually work, will actually deliver services in an efficient way," said Doggett. "Their fear that that might lead to more public programs than they're willing to support."
Insure Central Texas will also operate an enrollment center at the Community Financial Center located at West Gate Boulevard and Stassney Lane. Representatives with St. David's announced Tuesday the health provider had awarded a $100,000 grant to Foundation Communities to open a third enrollment center in East Austin. An additional "challenge" grant from St. David's pledges to match community donations of up to $100,000 to build a fourth and possibly fifth location if needed.