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As Deadline Nears, Advocates Try To Get Young North Texans, Minorities To Get Healthcare

The deadline to get insured this year under the Affordable Care Act is the last day of March. The main challenge for advocates is getting young people and minorities to buy in. But an effort is underway to encourage them. 

In Dallas and Fort Worth, people like Keilah Jacques are calling Texans out to get insured before the March 31 deadline. Jacques works for the non-profit CitySquare, which is spreading the word using social media blasts and weekend events called "Rock Enroll" where DJs spin music and people line up for gourmet food trucks.

But it’s the freebies that attracted Mike Clear of East Dallas.

“I don’t know all the ins and outs,” Clear said. “I’m working, and I’m really kind of poor…don’t need it, but obviously I do.”

He’s one of the millions of uninsured in Texas. The Department of Health and Human Services says young adults between ages 18 and 34 are enrolling more in this fourth month since the marketplace opened, but the increase has only been about 3 percentage points.

'Famous procrastinators'

Rev. Gerald Britt with CitySquare says it’s understandable that young adults have been slower to sign up.

“Young people are famous procrastinators,” Britt said. “I talked to my daughter last night. ‘Dad, I’m going to do it next month.’ Stay on them, make sure they do it, take advantage of this.”

His daughter, Adrienne, is 33. Britt says she’ll do it because she knows how important it is.

“At some point, no matter how young you are, or how healthy you are, you’re going to get sick,” hesaid. “Young people who aren’t insured are going to be in bad shape. So this is actually an investment for them.”

Insurance an 'investment' in the future

Sara Smith is with Texas Public Interest Research Group. She shares her story to encourage other young adults to enroll.

“I’m 25, I just graduated law school, and really this was my first time, I had no idea what to do,” she said. “I was apathetic a couple of years ago.”

Smith says the last thing young people are thinking about is insurance.

“Health insurance is an investment in your health and financial future,” she said. “You’re protecting that. There’s assistance … [it’s] not something you have to do alone.”

Over at the LULAC National Education Service Center in Dallas, 22-year-old Karen Estrada was trying to input personal data into a computer with the help of a health care representative known as a navigator.

She hasn’t enrolled yet because she’s uncertain if she can afford it without any income.

Sign up -- or face penalties

Renato De Los Santos Jr. is the center’s director. He says every Tuesday and Thursday of this month, doors will be open for the community to find out their options.

“We are not an agency that’s normally involved with healthcare,” he said. “But we want to make our facility to those people in the community who needs it right now.”

With only a few weeks left before the deadline approaches, healthcare advocates are hoping more people will sign up under the Affordable Care Act -- or they face a penalty that will increase dramatically each year.

For more coverage on health, science and technology, visit KERA's Breakthroughs blog.

Doualy Xaykaothao is a newscaster and reporter for NPR, based in Culver City. She returned to NPR for this role in 2018, and is responsible for writing, producing, and delivering national newscasts. She also reports on breaking news stories for NPR.