Flagging Down Taxi Drivers To Sign Up For Obamacare | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
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Flagging Down Taxi Drivers To Sign Up For Obamacare

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Dan Ware has been driving a taxicab in Chicago for more than a decade, but he still doesn't have what many jobs offer: health insurance.

"I'm without health coverage," he says.

And that's not unusual, says Chicago Public Health Commissioner Bechara Choucair. "What we know in Chicago is that around 70 percent of taxi drivers are uninsured," Choucair says.

That means about 8,000 cabbies could be eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Nationwide, there are more than 200,000 taxicab drivers, and so in a few big cities — including Chicago — supporters of the Affordable Care Act are working to recruit them to sign up before this month's open enrollment deadline.

Choucair says a couple of years ago, a study showed taxi drivers in Chicago had plenty of health problems, largely due to the long hours they spend behind the wheel.

"They don't eat as healthy, they don't exercise as much and those are definitely risk factors for diabetes, for heart disease, for strokes," Choucair says.

Add to that chronic back issues that can come from sitting and health problems caused by traffic accidents.

Enrollment workers in Chicago are signing up taxicab drivers for Obamacare at the facility where cabbies obtain or renew their city chauffeur's license.

"We've been enrolling an average of between 5 to 9 people on site," says Salvador Cerna, an outreach manager for the state. He says others make appointments to get help enrolling, and there are plenty here who want assistance.

Ejaz Waheed has gone without health insurance for nearly a decade. "Back until 2005, I was with a regular job, so I had it. Then I became self-employed and I lost insurance," he says.

Ghulam Memon began driving in 1994 and shares a similar story. "My wife has Medicare and Medicaid both because she's 65-plus. I'm like 60 years, and I don't have anything," Memon says.

So he's exploring his options, as is Orkhan Askarov, 24. Askarov was applying for his first taxicab license, and he says he'll also apply for health insurance "and guarantee that if anything [happens] to me I'm going to be [in] good hands."

The nonprofit Enroll America is running similar cabbie programs in Austin and in Philadelphia. The group's president Anne Filipic says it's trying different ways to reach out to the uninsured as the March 31 deadline nears.

"Our focus right now is an all-hands-on-deck effort to get the word out. We know that a lot of people still don't have all the facts and don't know, for example, that financial assistance is available, so we want to meet them where they are and get them the information that they need," Filipic says.

In Philadelphia, where there are about 5,000 taxi drivers, many cabbies are getting their information at the headquarters of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania. President Ronald Blount says until now many simply couldn't afford health insurance at all.

"Most drivers in Philadelphia are earning less than $5 per hour. They are working 12 to 16 hours per day, 6 to 7 days per week," Blount says.

He calls the Affordable Care Act a godsend and says about 700 taxi drivers have already signed up there. "Drivers were finding plans as cheap as $35 to $60 per month, and that's something they can afford and these are really good health plans," Blount says.

And that's a boon for many cabbies who may take an easier route and seek out medical help early for any of the ailments that come from driving a taxi.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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