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Insurers And Austin Mayor Promote Obamacare To Texas Latinos

Blue Cross Blue Shield takes aim at Target — or, rather, at Target shoppers in San Antonio who might be interested in buying health insurance.

More than 900,000 Texans have signed up for health insurance so far this year – about 200,000 more than last year. The deadline for signing up for a health plan on HealthCare.gov is Saturday, and some groups in south Texas are making a big push to get Latinos to enroll.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas has a van that is traversing the south of the state, including a stop at a Target store in San Antonio.

"We want to meet people where they live and where they shop," says Edna Perez Vega, a spokesperson for the insurer. "It is a fully functional mobile site for people to get education and information about health insurance."

The company has a tent set up with a slogan (also translated into Spanish) that reads, "The road to medical coverage starts here." People can pick up pamphlets in either language and can also sign up for a plan with a bilingual agent inside the RV.

"We're sensitive to the fact that this is South Texas, and a lot of our community prefers to receive information in both languages," she says.

Yvonne Garcia is on her way to shop when she stops at the tent and talks with insurance agent Carlos Guerra. Garcia says that she's a contract worker without health benefits. "So I need to purchase them on my own," she explains. "If I go through my husband's work, it's extremely expensive."

Texas's state government continues to oppose the health law. But Steve Adler, Austin's new mayor, has helped to promote the insurance marketplace, including filming TV ads publicizing an enrollment event at City Hall. Adler says he's doing more this year to keep sign-up numbers growing.

"I think the city needs to continue to do what's necessary to ensure that its population is insured," Adler says. "And right now, spending our resources to help get people insured ultimately reduces the tax burden on its citizens."

The city is also dispersing funds to a couple of nonprofits that are working downtown to enroll Latinos in health plans.

"This was a first for Austin," said Frank Rodriguez, the executive director of one of those nonprofits, the Latino HealthCare Forum. "Last year the city did not fund any activity and I think they came to the realization that they play a central role in the community's health care."

He says his group is working downtown, trying to reach "service industry workers, the folks that work at restaurants, [and] construction workers."

Despite city funding, however — $300,000 combined for the Latino HealthCare Forum and another nonprofit, Foundation Communities — Rodriguez says Latinos are hard to reach.

"This is still a chronic, long-term issue for the community," he says, "and we're going to have to keep working on it."

At the Target in San Antonio, customer Yvonne Garcia spent nearly an hour inside the Blue Cross RV. She didn't qualify for an ACA plan but she did sign up for health insurance, and was pleased.

"We just by chance came to do some shopping ... and, wow!" she says.

Blue Cross is taking its RV across South Texas, to cities including Corpus Christi, Laredo, and Brownsville. Those areas are heavily Latino — and uninsured.

This story was produced as a project for the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, a program of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Copyright 2015 KUT-FM. To see more, visit http://kut.org.

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