Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, the state's largest health insurance provider, is launching a statewide campaign on Tuesday aimed at getting Texans enrolled in health plans through an online marketplace created by federal health reform.
Texas won’t have its own state-specific health insurance exchange; Republican leaders here have rejected that option as part of their opposition to the Affordable Care Act.
Blue Cross Blue Shield’s “Be Covered Texas” initiative aims to draw as many of the 6 million uninsured Texans as possible into a one-size-fits-all federal health insurance exchange, an Orbitz-style website where they can determine if they qualify for subsidized insurance or purchase private plans ahead of the 2014 deadline to carry insurance. Open enrollment begins in October.
"The Be Covered program is about converting the uninsured in our state to insured status," said Bert Marshall, the company's president. "It’s about getting educational materials in the hands of community partners and other people who may be influential to the populations that are currently uninsured."
Blue Cross officials said that they were not sure how much the initiative would cost but that they would spend what it takes to reach out to every county in Texas. The company stands to benefit from the outreach; it will offer coverage through the exchange in addition to its current private insurance portfolio. But Marshall said that to the extent that the campaign can "significantly erode or eliminate the uninsured, that is a good thing for all Blue Cross members."
Marshall said Texas' decision — so far — not to design a state-based insurance exchange "creates a level of uncertainly for us, as all decisions are being made out of Washington, D.C." He added that Blue Cross would like it if Texas embraced another aspect of the Affordable Care Act — accepting federal financing to expand Medicaid to cover more poor adults.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry has adamantly said that Texas will not expand Medicaid under federal health reform, saying that the state "will not drive millions more into an unsustainable system." Republican lawmakers have hedged and said they would consider it with the appropriate amount of federal flexibility — as long as Medicaid is also reformed in the process.
"We'd like to see the expansion," Marshall said, "but we also understand the ... issues that the governor is raising that mean that the program needs to be reformed."
Marshall said he was particularly concerned about the shrinking pool of health care providers who will accept Medicaid patients, because they are frustrated by low reimbursement rates.
Blue Cross Blue Shield has launched a website — BeCoveredTexas.org — to answer questions about the requirements for insurance coverage under federal health reform. The campaign will provide educational materials in English and Spanish, and the company will work with community groups, schools, religious institutions and doctors to distribute literature and host neighborhood events. Be Covered Texas will also include a text messaging campaign to update families on approaching insurance coverage deadlines.
Marshall said the program is launching first in Texas, but could spread to other Blue Cross states.
"The worst thing that could happen is for Texans to ignore the new realities of the marketplace," he said.