DALLAS - The Enroll Dallas County Partnership hosted its first meeting Thursday on the construction site of the new Parkland Hospital to talk about the federal healthcare law commonly known as "Obamacare."
North Texas city and county leaders attended the event, where the goal was to share ideas on how to educate and communicate with families about the Healthcare Marketplace, including assisting organizations enroll candidates starting October 1.
It's estimated that 506,000 Dallas County residents don't have health insurance.
Some city and county leaders are reaching out to schools, churches and community organizations to promote the program. Texas has refused to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and rejected expanding Medicaid.
The meeting came hours after U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius met with officials from Austin and Travis counties.
"Our job now is to connect people with the benefits that are coming their way and make sure they have the information easy, close at hand to be able to enroll," Sebelius said.
Sebelius' visit highlighted the debate across the state and the nation over the law.
Gov. Rick Perry released a statement hours before the secretary's meeting:
"With due respect, the secretary and our president are missing the point: It's not that Americans don't understand Obamacare, it's that we understand it all too well," said Perry. "In Texas, we've been fighting Obamacare from the beginnings, refusing to expand a broken Medicaid system and declining to set up a state health insurance exchange."
Despite the criticism, federal officials say Americans are interested in the plan and are still open to discussing a Texas program. However, no talks are on the table.
"We remain flexible," said Marjorie Petty, regional VI director at HHS. "All they would have to do is say 'We're ready now to take it over.' These are Texas health plans that are going to be offered right now. Texas wouldn't really see much difference."
Meanwhile, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and other county and city officials are reaching out to community organizations, faith-based organizations and schools to spread the word on what's coming ahead.
"Very shortly, we'll know what the cost of these plans are and we're working with our medical community, our doctors and insurance companies to discuss their reimbursement as it goes down," he said.
The details are expected to be announced early September. Next week, agencies and organizations that applied will find out if they'll receive federal grant money to help people sign up. Enrollment opens October 1.