Door to door with Obamacare

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by Doug Miller / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on October 16, 2013 at 8:38 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 16 at 8:40 PM

HOUSTON -- Call them the door-to-door salesmen of Obamacare. A couple of cheerful young men wearing identical T-shirts and carrying a clipboard full of pamphlets walks through a neighborhood near Hobby Airport in southeast Houston.

They fit right into the neighborhood, looking like a couple of fresh-faced college students working on a civic project. They knock on doors, greet the people who live in the homes they visit and deliver a practiced message.

"The Affordable Health Care Act is trying to help everybody out." one of them tells a woman standing on her doorstep. "Might be able to save a lot of money to help out your family."

"Tenemos workshops en Denver Harbor," says the other young man, switching to Spanish for a bilingual conversation.

The woman at the door smiles and laughs, says she's not exactly political, but she's curious.

"So like, me, I have a six year old kid," says Maria Mendoza, launching into an explanation of her family's situation, including an admission that she doesn't have any health insurance.

That makes her a prime candidate for the message the door-to-door canvassers are delivering.

Obamacare won't work without people. The health insurance exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act need clients. So an army of outreach workers deployed across the nation are spreading the word about the law and trying to convince millions of uninsured Americans to sign up.

One of the groups working to enroll Texans -- about a quarter of whom are uninsured -- is the Texas Organizing Project, a decidedly Democratic organization sharply critical of Gov. Rick Perry and other state Republican leaders. Unlike other states, Texas -- whose Republican leadership has stridently opposed the health care plan -- is doing little or nothing to promote enrollment with the new insurance exchanges. So groups like TOP are trying to take up the slack.

That's what brought Mando Flores and Al Ortiz to Skycraper Shadows, a subdivision whose high-falutin' name seems at odds with the working class homes and open ditches lining its streets. They’re not selling insurance, they’re selling a message. Here, they find a friendly audience.

"Yeah, of course, I think like a lot of other people, I have a lot of questions," Mendoza said. "I mean, if it's good, it's going to be good for me and my family. So yeah, I have a lot of questions about it."

That's a common reaction. Even people who've tried to research the new law can't figure out crucial details.

"Some people are just a little concerned, because the Affordable Care Act is something new," Ortiz said. "Not a lot of information is pouring out there. So they have a lot of concerns."

And then there are people like Phyllis Pharr, who Ortiz and Flores found sitting on her porch, smoking a cigarette next to the birdcage housing a pet cockateel named George. She tried to do some research, but didn't get very far.

"Their website is just awful," Pharr said. "I'm sorry, it's absolutely horrible."

She has health insurance through her employer, but her rates and other costs have been rising so rapidly she hoped the new health care exchanges would offer her an alternative.

"I'm not impressed," she says. "It is expensive. It's not as cheap as I thought it would be. I'm better off sticking with my company's insurance, even though it has gone up. And my deductible has gone up. And my co-pays has gone up."

Nonetheless, Ortiz and Flores talk with her for a few minutes and invite her to one of the group's seminars. Maybe, they say, she'll discover it's not as expensive as she thinks.

"I'm hoping that they can do something for people who need insurance outside of their work," Pharr said. "But I don't see where this is going to help a lot."

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