Healthcare navigator Taqiyya Orr helps taxi driver Paramjit Singh enroll himself and his family in the Affordable Care Act at an enrollment event at the Philadelphia Taxi Workers Union headquarters in West Philly. Credit: Charles Mostoller/Metro
Earlier today, as part of a push to get more of their 5,000 drivers enrolled through the Affordable Care Act, the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania held an official training and sign-up session.
"We’re working with a demographic that is 90 percent first-generation immigrants," said Ronald Blount, director of the Taxi Workers Alliance. "Eighty-five percent of the taxi drivers don't have insurance."
The job comes with its share of health hazards, and many drivers can't afford to get health care for issues such as diabetes or high cholesterol, much less a serious accident.
"I've known drivers to get their legs crushed between two vehicles, the very next day they're back driving a cab with a cast on their legs," Blount said. "One driver was hit while at a gas station and went into a five-month coma. He had to learn to walk again. The week after he came out of the coma, he went back to work walking with a cane, trying to drive and carry people's luggage."
That's why Blount is urging drivers to take a look at Obamacare applications, which he said many of them have avoided due to questions over their immigrant status. Non-U.S. citizens who are legal immigrants can enroll in Obamacare.
"Taxi drivers make around $5 an hour. It's definitely working poor," Blount said. "When youre looking at policies for health insurance that cost $400 to $800 a month, these drivers can't afford it. This is an opportunity for them to get coverage."
The Taxi Workers Alliance has been interested in Obamacare for months, but now it's particularly urgent as open enrollment ends March 31.
After that, the uninsured will be required to pay an additional federal tax and won't be able to enroll on the government exchange until October 1.
About seven applications were started and three were completed in the hour-and-a-half of the five-hour enrollment event, said Paydon Miller, communications lead at Enroll America PA, who worked with taxi drivers at the Alliance's event Tuesday afternoon.
Enroll America PA also plans to hold similar events with unions such as SEIU, Philadelphia's Restaurant Opportunities Center, and the Black Nurses Union.
"Those are the exact folks who can benefit from the financial assistance that helps them pay for their plan," Miller said.
Blount said that since beginning enrollment efforts from the alliance offices, about 25 percent of the 5,000 drivers working in Philadelphia and the five-county area have come in to enroll or fill out paper applications. He hopes to get that number to 50 percent by March.