CentroMed, a local nonprofit health care organization, is offering assistance to San Antonio families in enrolling in Affordable Care Act health insurance plans. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

More than 18 percent of San Antonians under the age of 65 did not have health insurance as of last year, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau

With the coronavirus pandemic ongoing, this means San Antonio families are more at risk for financial ruin should they get sick, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said during a press conference Tuesday to highlight local programs residents can utilize to help them sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Dec. 15 is the deadline for open enrollment.

“The health status of a city like San Antonio is directly related to having access to health care and directly correlated to having health insurance,” Nirenberg said. “The higher the rate of insured families in the community, the health status of the community will be improved.” 

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) said its important to get as many people health insurance as possible these days.

“I can’t think of a more difficult time to be without health insurance than in the midst of a pandemic,” said Doggett, who serves as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee’s Health Subcommittee.

People who contract COVID-19 and are hospitalized often end up with large bills, and even some who don’t end up in the hospital have lingering problems that require treatment, he said.

One reason so many San Antonians are uninsured is because they do not know how to enroll, Doggett said. San Antonio is the largest city in Texas that does not receive funding through the federal Navigator Program, which helps other cities with enrollment outreach and marketing, he added. The Trump administration cut those funds in 2017.

In an effort to fill in this gap, CentroMed, the local nonprofit health care organization that focuses on serving vulnerable populations, is offering enrollment assistance to San Antonio families. Also helping is EnrollSA, Bexar County’s volunteer coalition of organizations that employ certified application counselors to help people enroll in ACA plans, said Ana Maria Garza Cortez, vice president of development and marketing at CentroMed.

Critical to this mission is Methodist Healthcare Ministries (MHM), which provides much of the funding for both CentroMed’s and EnrollSA’s outreach efforts, Garza Cortez said. Their combined efforts have aided residents on San Antonio’s South Side and West Side, where health care coverage – whether from private companies or public programs such as ACA plans or Medicaid – is sparse, she added.

Republicans in Congress have aimed to repeal the ACA, known commonly as “Obamacare,” since its passage in 2010 but have failed to do so, and efforts to replace it with another health care plan haven’t materialized.

President Donald Trump, who has called the ACA a “broken mess,” has slashed the ACA budget and pushed short-term health plans as a more affordable solution. But Doggett said such plans were not comprehensive enough.

“These are short-term plans. They don’t provide coverage for COVID testing and treatment,” Doggett said. “They don’t provide essential benefits. They’re junk.”

In the past few years, federal contracts for ACA outreach and enrollment assistance in 15 cities, including San Antonio, have been canceled, said Jamie Wesolowski, Methodist Healthcare Ministries’ president and CEO. Six of those cities are in Texas.

The combination of these federal cuts means local government and health care officials have an uphill battle to spread the word that affordable coverage is still available and getting health coverage is possible, Wesolowski said. 

“This is why Methodist Healthcare Ministries has provided funding to EnrollSA,” Wesolowski said.

Methodist Healthcare Ministries is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett is the general assignment reporter for the San Antonio Report.