Push begins as signup period starts for healthcare

The HealthCare.gov website is photographed in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018. Health insurance sign-ups for the Affordable Care Act are down with just a few days left to enroll in most states, even though premiums are stable, consumers have more choice, and millions of uninsured people can still get financial help. The nation’s uninsured rate could edge up again. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais | The Associated Press)

Nearing the beginning of the open enrollment period for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar is reminding people that embattled legislation — also known as Obamacare — is still the law of the land and encouraging them to sign up.

Cuellar, D-Laredo, held a press availability last week to promote enrollment for Obamacare, which begins Friday, Nov. 1 and lasts until Dec. 15, as well as enrollment for Medicare which began on Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7.

“I know that under the current administration, the Affordable Healthcare Act has been under attack to repeal it, but it’s still there and we want to make sure that we get as many people signed up,” Cuellar said.

He noted that the Trump administration had also cut funds for advertising.

“The problem is, if people don’t hear about it, they’re going to think that it’s been repealed or it’s going to be repealed and therefore less people will sign up for it,” Cuellar said. “And you can see that the Affordable Healthcare has and still has provided a great service to people that have just never had insurance in the past.”

According to data provided by Cuellar’s office, Texas overall has seen a 6% increase in healthcare coverage. In 2019, 1.087 million Texans enrolled for health insurance through the ACA — 28% of those identified as Hispanic or Latino, 39% identified as white, while 6% identified as African American.

“We’ve seen progress and the unfortunate thing is we have an administration that wants to repeal,” Cuellar said. “Unfortunately, we have an administration that has not promoted it as we did under the Obama administration and therefore I want to do everything I can to promote this Affordable Healthcare Act — it’s still the law of the land.”

But for how long remains uncertain as the legality of the ACA is currently under dispute in federal court.

A lawsuit brought by several states’ attorneys general challenges the constitutionality of the ACA given that the individual mandate, which is the requirement in the law for all residents to have insurance or pay a penalty, was eliminated through a 2017 Republican-backed tax bill.

A ruling from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected any day now.

Cuellar also touched on legislation currently in the works including HR 3, a bill that would allow the federal government to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices.

The bill also places a $2,000 out-of-pocket limit on prescription drugs for seniors enrolled in Medicare Part D.

“So instead of, as you know, you could have the same drugs, same company and in Mexico they charge one thing but then here in the United States, they charge much higher prices,” Cuellar said. “So we want to make sure that we’re able to do that.”