One week before uninsured Texans can enroll for subsidized health coverage through what's known as the federal marketplace, nine new hires at CentroMed are holed up learning everything they can to help people understand and sign up.
"There's a lot of information they are having to learn in a short period of time," said Ana Maria Garza Cortez, vice president of development and marketing for the non-profit health care center.
"They are having to learn the ins and outs of the new marketplace insurance: how much it's going to cost, who qualifies, what are the guidelines, how to complete the applications," Garza Cortez said.
CentroMed received approximately $500,000 in federal grants to fund the jobs created to help spread the word about the Affordable Care Act marketplace and help enroll a community with a significant number of uninsured.
Nearly half of the 75,000 patients CentroMed saw last year were uninsured.
Of those, Garza Cortez estimated 20,000 would be eligible for the subsidized coverage through the marketplace.
Shirley Payares is among them.
"I went online a few days ago, and I was looking for the application. I think I can do it myself," Payares said.
The counselors, who will be based at CentroMed clinics and visit events throughout the community, have their work cut out for them. Not only is there a lot to learn about the marketplace, the public has some misconceptions.
"The biggest question is, 'Is this really happening?' Garza Cortez said. "They did not realize it was a law to get health insurance."
Texas, with the leadership of Republican Gov. Rick Perry, did not expand Medicaid. Nor is the state operating its own marketplace through which to buy insurance. Instead, the federal government is running the marketplace for Texas through the website www.healthcare.gov.
The state received some $11 million to hire navigators to assist consumers with the new law. Navigators and counselors have to go through 20 to 20 hours of training and pass a test.
However, Gov. Perry has said that's not enough, given the amount of confidential information that will be handled. He has asked for stricter rules and training.
The Texas Department of Insurance is to take up the issue Sept. 30, one day before enrollment for the marketplace begins.
Whether Texas counselors and navigators will be on the job remains to be seen. They continue to train as if they will.
CentroMed plans a public forum Saturday, Oct. 5 at 3800 Commercial Ave. to help people understand the new health care law and how it affects them.
KSAT 12 also has a page dedicated to explaining the Affordable Care Act and how it will affect you directly. It can be found at ksat.com/healthcare.