Majority of El Paso uninsured too poor to qualify for Obamacare

EL PASO, Texas - Despite a major push to enroll uninsured people into new health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act, a large majority of El Paso County's uninsured are too poor to qualify for health insurance under the new law.

"Even under this new law, there are still going to be a substantial number of people who aren't going to qualify to receive health insurance and that's unfortunate. The fact that we have such a high number of low income people here, that kind of complicates things," said Roy Ortega, the Community Relations Manager for Project Amistad, an organization that's been working to enroll people.

According to Project Amistad, there are 178,000 uninsured people in El Paso County. Out of those, only 24,000 actually qualify for health insurance under Obamacare.

In Texas, a person has to earn more than $11,670 a year to qualify for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. For two people, the combined income has to exceed $15,730 and $19,790 for a household of three.

For the more than 150,000 people in El Paso County who don't make enough money to qualify for health insurance under the ACA, there really is only one other realistic choice, said Ortega. They have to rely on clinics who provide medical care for the indigent. "If they get sick, if they get in an accident, the only option they have realistically is to find an arrangement through University Medical Center or a local clinic to receive the healthcare that they need. And we are lucky in El Paso County, that we have a number of them."

Last April, County Commissioners approved a $152 million bond to build three new University Medical Center primary care clinics, while expanding a fourth. That's in addition to the six already open.

These who currently don't qualify in Texas could have been eligible for health insurance if Texas would have expanded medicaid. Governor Rick Perry refused the additional federal money, saying Texas might be on the hook for that cost when a federal funding guarantee expires after 2016.

It's a different story in New Mexico. Governor Susana Martinez was one of the few republican governors who did accept the federal government's extra medicaid funds. Unlike Texas, individuals far below the poverty level may qualify for a new medical plan.

Enroll El Paso estimates there are 178,000 uninsured in El Paso but the County estimates there are 260,000 people living without insurance.

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