Many Valley residents registering for ACA through paper applications

NEWSCENTER 23
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Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - 10:08am

People signing up for health coverage through the Affordable Care Act in the Valley have largely avoided the problems that have plagued the federal online marketplace, healthcare.gov, because the majority of people in the region have opted to file paper applications. Still, the signup process has been slow going, Alana Rocha, with our friends at the Texas Tribune, looks at the factors at play.

After explaining it as many as 30 times a day for the past two months, Rachel Vargas knows the Affordable Care Act well and what the people seeking her help at Nuestra Clinica del Valle, a state community health center in Pharr, need.

Rachel Vargas, "They're 50's and 40's, they're scared of the Internet and I tell them how old I am, I'm you know, I'm way up there and it's a piece of cake."

To complete Step 1 on healthcare.gov, applicants must have an email address, but only about half of all Americans who make $25,000 to $30,000 dollars use email, according to a report released last year by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

In the Valley, where some of the poorest, sickest Texans live, Internet access can be hard to come by. Many residents can't afford it or might live in a "dead zone" along the river that doesn't get service.

That's made paper applications the popular choice among those signing up at the clinics, but even then an email address is still required.

Vargas says a good part of her day is spent creating email accounts for people such as Guadalupe Rodriguez, who has an email address, but can't remember it. So she plans to come back another day to complete her application, especially upon learning she qualifies for subsidies.

Rodriguez, a health care worker, has never had health insurance, she's always sought medical care across the border, "Now we're going to have our own doctors and I don't have to go over there in Mexico."

Thirty miles east, in Harlingen at Su Clinica, Julio Santana III, a certified application counselor, says that in the 60 plus days since enrollment opened, he's signed up just one person using healthcare.gov. And while Santana says a paper application can take as along as an hour to complete, "Paper doesn't lie. It is what it is, you write it down, you submit it and it's good as gold."

Once healthcare.gov is running smoothly, counselors look forward to regularly signing up applicants online to expedite the process.

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