HIDALGO COUNTY, TX — Monday is the last day to sign up for Obamacare for face fines. Open enrollment for health insurance coverage ends at midnight, but those who run into technical troubles will have a grace period. The race is on in Hidalgo County to sign up as many as possible. For a lot of residents, it is the first time they have ever had health insurance, Jordan Malter reports.
Near the Southern tip of Texas is the most uninsured county in the country. More than half of adults 18 to 64 here in Hidalgo County, Texas do not have health insurance.
Christian Munoz, Outreach Director, Nuestra Clinica del Valle, "They're generally Hispanics, working class,"
McAllen resident, "I'm from McAllen.
Jordan Malter, "Born and raised here in McAllen?"
McAllen resident, "Yes sir."
In the final week of enrollment for Obamacare, signups on the insurance exchange are surging
Christian Munoz, "We've definitely seen a big increase, just these past three weeks of March we've already surpassed what we did in February. 1700 submitted applications and out of those 1700, officially, 850 have enrolled."
Maria Castillo, Application Counselor, "This is the first step. They need to verify your identity ok? Are you a U.S. citizen?"
Guadalupe Ortega, "Yes."
Maria Castillo, "Very busy. One after the other. I would say like 15 or so a day. Are you working right now?"
Guadalupe Ortega, "Estoy en unemployment."
Maria Castillo, "The majority have never had health insurance. We have to explain deductibles, and copayments and premiums. They're not used to these. So I'm creating their email and their password because they do not have one."
Christian Munoz, "We've completely expanded our hours from 8am to 9pm and we've also added on Saturdays."
Elda Gonzalez, "I was working at this company and it shut down, so we were left without insurance. And now I'm working in some other places as a home health provider but um, we don't have that opportunity to have insurance. Not all companies offer that. I really need the insurance. Subsidy, I never heard about that so all I had in my mind was that I had to pay full price each month for the policy so I'm glad, I'm happy with it."
Per person income in this county is about $14,000 a year. 35% of the population falls below the poverty line.
At the McAllen Public Library, people are lining up to sign up, Jaime Cantu, Cognosante, Marketplace Enrollment Team, "8-10 per hour is what we are going to be doing today. Last night we stayed until probably until around 8:30, 9 o'clock"
Jaime Cantu, "Does everybody have an appointment"
"Thank you. Thank you. Good luck to you guys"
Elda Gonzalez, "This is my first time. I, never in my life had health insurance so now I can go more freely, if I get sick, to see the doctor or the dentist. So I'm happy."
But it's not good news for everyone. Paula did not get the federal subsidy she was hoping for, "It's expensive. "Too expensive? Expensive."
Raquel Vargas, Application Counselor, "People who have never had insurance before they are so happy. But some of them, they just prefer to pay the 1% penalty, that's it. It's cheaper for them"
And since Texas is a state that did not expand Medicaid, health coverage for the very poor, many below the poverty line will remain uninsured, Danny Ordaz, "I'm sad because me and my kids, I don't qualify for the Obama, Obamacare insurance."
Reporter, "And why is that?"
Danny Ordaz, "Why because my income is too, too low. That's why."
People like Danny will have to continue getting limited medical care from local non-profit clinics or drive 20 minutes to Mexico.
Paula Adame, "I was sitting in the lobby and I heard people talking about, why do we have to go to Mexico to go to the dentist, or why do we have to go over there to get our medications? That's what they can afford, they have to do it."
At least tens of thousands will continue without health insurance in this county and there is still plenty of confusion on the streets about the new law.
But it's a historic week for those who are enrolling like Paula, Maria Castillo, "You're eligible for a tax credit of $337 each month. Ok there's bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Pero with the reduction it went down to $72.07 ok?"
Paula, "It's be que, 20 years? Right. 20 years that I haven't had insurance. Now i can, breathe? Breathe a little bit. Not get nervous no more you know. Cause I did get kinda depressed. And she'd be getting kind of sick lately."
Reporter: "You're emotional."
Reporter: "Can you explain to me why?"
Paula, "I can't."
Maria Castillo, "You're happy ma'am? That's good."