Dawa Aden has navigated the cobblestone-covered streets of Philadelphia in a Yellow Cab for the past 15 years. Despite working 12 hour shifts up to six days a week, the 59-year-old father of five did not have health insurance.
"I couldn’t qualify," said Aden, who didn’t have paystubs for the applications since taxi drivers collect an all cash income. "If I’m sick, where will I go?”
But the days of hoping illnesses go away on their own are over for Aden. He enrolled in the Affordable Care Act in January during a session held at the offices of the Unified Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania (TWA).
"My mind is free now,” he said. "My big happiness is to get insurance.”
About 80 percent of the nearly 5,000 taxi drivers in the city did not have insurance prior to the Affordable Care Act going into effect, said Ronald Blount, president of the Unified Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania.
"They were pretty much on their own," he said. "If a driver was hit by a drunk driver, the taxi auto insurance doesn’t cover the driver.”
"They’d be stuck with big medical bills,” added Blount, who said many drivers are plagued by “silent killers” like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol since many eat while on the go and are sitting for most of the day.
In an effort to enroll as many cabbies as possible, the TWA teamed up with two nonprofits focused on health care, Healthy Philadelphia and Get Covered America, to hold regular enrollment and information sessions.
"Our strategy is trying to be where people are,” said Bill England, the Pennsylvania state director for Get Covered America, which provides education and outreach to those without insurance or people who are unhappy with their current coverage. “We are trying to reach out to low-income, working individuals who have no benefits.”
"It is a very complex law,” England said. "We try to explain it in very straightforward terms, provide information about how everything works and what information they need to meet with the enrollment assistor.”
In December, the nonprofit began targeting cab drivers in Philadelphia, a strategy that has spread throughout the country.
“They actually announce it over the radio so the guys driving know they can come back to the office for the session,” England said.
Despite the efforts, there are still challenges when enrolling the drivers. About 95 percent of the cabbies, who are all American citizens, are first-generation immigrants so there can be a language barrier, Blount said.
“Some of these folks may have grown up in a culture that is not as engrained in technology [as the U.S.],” England added.
An email address is required so the 60 to 90 minute enrollment process often starts with creating one, Blount said.
In the three months since the organizations began working together, more than 400 TWA members and 300 non-members submitted health insurance applications during the meetings, he said.
"One of the first things that I hear once we sign them up and pick a plan," he said, "they hug me and say ‘Ron, this is the first time in my life I’ve had health insurance’ and that’s a beautiful thing.”
Blount encourages anyone interested in obtaining health insurance through the Affordable Care Act to attend the sessions, which will continue to take place at the TWA office at 4233 Chestnut St. every Tuesday and Wednesday from noon to 7 p.m. until open enrollment ends March 31.
The next open enrollment period begins Nov. 15 for coverage beginning in 2015.
“Anything can happen to you between March and 2015,” Blount warns. “So please take advantage of this.”
You can find additional events hosted by Get Enrolled America throughout the area on its website.
More than 150,000 people under the age of 64 in Philadelphia are still uninsured, according to the latest data from Get Covered America.
England says, "The footrace is on to try to get people to understand the law and enrolled."