Houstonians get help with health care

Affordable Care Act enrollment goes into effect Oct. 1, and many uninsured Houstonians will begin comparing new health insurance rates. Texas has the highest rate of uninsured in the country, and 28.8 percent of adults in the state lack healthcare coverage.

President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law in March 2010. It makes preventative care and other types of medical care more accessible and affordable to a larger portion of Americans.

Some provisions of the ACA – dubbed “Obamacare” – have already taken effect while others are still in the works, as federal, state and local agencies continue to fine-tune the process.

To inform Houstonians about the ACA, a forum titled “Healthcare in a Changing Landscape” was recently held at the University of Houston, and sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund, Texas Organizing Project, Get Covered America and the Center for Children, Law & Policy.

Participants included State Rep. Garnet Coleman, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, State Sen. Sylvia Garcia and Jeness Sherrell, a Change Happens program coordinator. Change Happens is one of eight Texas organizations awarded navigator grants to assist consumers with enrolling in health insurance marketplaces.

Coleman worked with the White House on the ACA, and took the lead on behalf of state legislators in favor of the law.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman speaking at "Healthcare in a Changing Landscape." (Photo: Cierra Duncan)

State Rep. Garnet Coleman speaking at
“Healthcare in A Changing Landscape.”
(Photo: Cierra Duncan)

Blacks benefit

“The Affordable Care Act probably benefits African-Americans more than anyone else,” Coleman said. “We have a high rate of being uninsured, and also have a high rate of illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and stroke.

“If people enroll through the exchanges, they will get a health insurance policy that fits their income. Before, people who had pre-existing conditions would have a hard time getting insurance.”

Coleman said the bigger misconception about the ACA is that individuals cannot afford the insurance. “The premiums are actually less for the exchange,” he said.

Exchanges are another word for state, federal, or jointly run online marketplaces for health insurance. Navigators, who act as customer service representatives, will assist with finding the appropriate insurance based on need and income.

The exchanges will offer plans that fall into one of four categories: bronze, silver, gold or platinum.

Bronze plans have the lowest premium available, and 60 percent of health care costs will be paid by the insurer. Under silver plans, insurance companies will cover 70 percent of medical costs. Gold plans will cover 80 percent of medical costs. Platinum plans will have the highest premiums and cover 90 percent of costs.

Those with limited incomes and those under 30 can purchase a “catastrophic” health plan, which protects from high medical costs. Catastrophic plans include three primary care doctor visits per year and free preventative care at no cost to the insured. However, cost assistance is not available under the plan.

Assisting consumers

Change Happens will assist residents in Harris, Brazoria, Fort Bend, Montgomery and Galveston Counties.

“The navigators will have the responsibility of maintaining expertise in eligibility, enrollment, and program specification, as well as conduct public education activities to raise awareness about the exchange,” Sherrell said.

The Third Ward non-profit will also seek to educate consumers who believe health insurance is not a necessity.

“Outreach will have to include more education on why insurance is important and the benefit of taking advantage of preventative services,” Sherrell said. “It’s not just a matter of going out and saying ‘This is what’s available.’ You have to explain why it’s necessary.”

Jackson Lee stressed that under the ACA, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee speaking at "Healthcare in a Changing Landscape." (Photo: Cierra Duncan)

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee speaking at “Healthcare in a Changing Landscape.”
(Photo: Cierra Duncan)

In addition, “No insurance can prevent you from getting preventative care, such as mammograms and [wellness] exams for men.”

Jackson Lee reminded consumers to beware of scams. Attempts to defraud consumers have already been reported, as scam artists attempt to illegally gain access to personal information such as Social Security numbers, credit cards and bank accounts.

“Please do not send money to anyone if you are looking for information,” she said. “The only money you will pay is to the insurer who has a package you want.”

The above article is in Volume 82, Number 46 (September 12, 2013) of the Defender newspaper in Houston, Texas.


Dwight Boykins: Small Business Owner and Lifelong Resident of District D

Dwight Boykins  (Source: http://boykins2013.com)

Dwight Boykins
(Source: http://boykins2013.com)

by: Cierra Duncan

Dwight Boykins, a small business owner and lifelong resident of District D, has announced he is running for City Council.

Boykins says he believes it is time for “new vision” and “new direction” in District D. As councilman, he says he plans to improve economic development, infrastructural advancements and the quality of life of residents.

“It’s time for a new direction,” Boykins said at his campaign party. “This community raised me and, as your councilman, I will make sure we continue to move District D forward.”

Boykins says he is committed to serving his community and advocating for District D residents.

According to his campaign website, he has collaborated with SHAPE Community Center, the NAACP and several other nonprofits in hopes of improving the surrounding communities.

Boykins has also served on the Hurricane Ike Relief Fund Board where he supervised the distribution of more than $16 million in city funding to areas in need.

He also served on the Oversight Committee of Rebuild Houston. ReBuild Houston is the City of Houston’s proposal to improve the quality of life and mobility for residents of the city by rebuilding our drainage and street infrastructure.

“We will collect about 350 million dollars a year for the next 23 years,” Boykins said. “This will be about 4 billion dollars to redo the city’s street, drainage, and flooding system.”

Boykins says the money will be collected through a resident’s water bill as a pay-as-you-go user fee. It will not be a tax to all residents.

Boykins’ says his work with Rebuild Houston led him to become an advocate for a second chance program in Houston. In the program nonviolent offenders would be able to rejoin the workforce and become a productive member of society.

“The passion I have to implement this program…I cant ask anyone else to do this,” Boykins said. “Its something that would be a priority for me given the opportunity to serve on City Council.

“I may have an opportunity to work in the White House. I may have an opportunity to hang out with the movers-and-shakers but I never forget the people who need help. That’s where I am with this second chance program.”

Boykins earned a BBA in Marketing from the Jesse H. Jones School of Business at Texas Southern University. He and his wife Genora have been married for 23 years and live in the middle of District D.

More information on Dwight Boykins can be found at http://www.boykins2013.com/.

Residents troubled by fires

Residents of South Park and Sunnyside are on high alert due to a rash of fires plaguing their communities in recent months. Occupied businesses, homes and abandoned buildings have all fallen victim to an arsonist.

Activist Quanell X and community leaders were joined by members of the Houston Fire Department (HFD) at a recent town hall meeting to inform residents about the fires that have been deliberately set. They learned that multiple fires have occurred in the area dating back to December 2012.

A suspect, Dwight Herman Albert, was arrested earlier this month in connection with a fire in Sunnyside. HFD said Albert was not linked to other fires in the area, but the investigation continues.

Albert is a well-known member of both the Sunnyside and South Park communities and many residents are divided on if he is responsible for the fires.

“This man walks everywhere he goes,” said Pastor Byron Jones of Rock Christian Center. “Everyone knows him. If he had a gas can walking, everyone would have noticed that.”

Another area minister, Pastor K. Nickleberry Lilly of Charity Missionary Baptist Church, lost a property that held resale merchandise. “I believe the investigation is ongoing and we should let the fire department and arson investigators do what they do,” he said.

Pastor K. Nickleberry

Pastor K. Nickleberry Lilly

“Many in the community don’t believe this man is setting the fires,” added Quanell X. “After they arrested him, there was another fire two days later. We really don’t know what the truth is.”

Area residents plan to rebuild the damaged and destroyed properties and said it will be an ongoing process.
“We will come together as a community to assist and help with the individual needs of a person [affected by a fire],” Jones said.

Pastor Nickleberry's Property (Photo: Cierra Duncan)

Pastor Nickleberry’s Property
(Photo: Cierra Duncan)

“It destroyed two buildings and caused $100, 000 worth of damaged property,” Lilly said. “However, we will rebuild and take it one day at a time. We will continue to reach out and help people.”

Police and fire officials have advised those in the community to ensure they have working fire alarms within their homes. They also promote obtaining home and fire insurance so properties will be covered in case of an unforeseen event.

(Photo: Cierra Duncan)

(Photo: Cierra Duncan)

The above article and pictures were published in Volume 82, Number 38 (July 18, 2013) of the Defender Newspaper.

Rodman to try ‘basketball diplomacy’ with North Korea (3 paragraph opening)

– Former NBA player Dennis Rodman hopes some “basketball diplomacy” will open doors with North Korea and possibly lead to dialogue between its leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Barack Obama.

Rodman plans to train a North Korean basketball team for a pair of exhibition matches against a U.S. team in the isolated, communist-ruled country in January, Rodman told a news conference on Monday following his second visit to North Korea this year for meetings with Kim.

“I would love to make this a gimmick and make a (bunch) of money, but it’s not about the money,” Rodman said. “It’s about trying to open Obama’s and everyone’s minds and, guess what, you don’t have to talk about politics. Talk about anything in the world. Meet him in Switzerland, meet him in London, meet him in Ireland, just meet him or even give him a call. That’s all he wants.”


TSU professor teaches journalism students a new writing technique

While teaching his advanced reporting class, Dr. Michael Berryhill instructed his class on the proper forms of writing.

Berryhill is the journalism chair at Texas Southern University. He has written for multiple newspapers and the author of “The Trials of Eroy Brown.” While writing his book, Berryhill faced a common problem among writers, a manuscript that is too long. He met with Alexander Parsons, a creative writing professor from the University of Houston, who gave him advice that would affect how he approached writing.

“Start as late as you can,” Berryhill said. “That was the thing that help me cut out all those words.”

As a result, Berryhill was able to condense his manuscript from 140,000 words to 80, 000.

“I had 10 big chapters that must have been 10,000 or more words,” Berryhil said. “I cut those big chapters into three chapters each because I had in my mind ‘start as late as possible.’”

Berryhill noted the books The Iliad and The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother as books that follow the same principle. Both books start at high points that get the reader’s attention then provide background.

“You can go back into time,” Berryhill said. “Don’t begin at the beginning. Start at a high point with something that will catch the reader’s attention.”

Written for Texas Southern University Fall 2013 Advanced Reporting class.