LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
There are more than 200,000 taxicab drivers in the U.S. And in a few big cities, supporters of the Affordable Care Act are working to sign up cabbies before this month's deadline. Taxi companies do not offer health insurance, since most drivers are considered independent contractors.
NPR's Cheryl Corley hailed a cab to get the lowdown.
CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: There are some 12,000 cab drivers in the city of Chicago. I'm just about to hop in a cab now, here on Chicago's State Street.
I'm going to Navy Pier, the back side.
My cabdriver, Dan Ware, has been driving a taxicab for more than a decade.
DAN WARE: Ten years. I stopped counting at 10 years. I think I'm a little over that, though.
CORLEY: But after years of driving, he still doesn't have what many jobs offer.
WARE: Yeah, I'm without health coverage. No health coverage.
CORLEY: And that's not unusual, says Chicago Public Health Commissioner Bechara Choucair.
BECHARA CHOUCAIR: What we know in Chicago is that around 70 percent of taxi drivers are uninsured.
CORLEY: That means about 8,000 cabbies could be eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Commissioner Choucair says a couple of years ago, a study here showed taxi drivers had plenty of health problems, largely due to the long hours they spend behind the wheel.
CHOUCAIR: 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.
CORLEY: Add to that chronic back issues that can come from sitting, and health problems caused by traffic accidents. So now, enrollment workers are signing up taxicab drivers for ObamaCare at the facility where cabbies obtain or renew their city chauffeur's license.
SALVADOR CERNA: We've been enrolling an average of between five and nine people onsite.
CORLEY: Salvador Cerna is 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.
EJAZ WAHEED: Back in 2005, I was with a regular job, so I had it. Then I became self-employed, and I lost insurance.
CORLEY: Ghulam Memon began driving in 1994, and shares a similar story.
GHULAM MEMON: My wife has Medicare and Medicaid both, because she's 65-plus. I'm, like, 60 years, and I don't have anything.
CORLEY: So he's exploring his options, as is 24-year-old Orkhan Askarov. He was applying for his first taxicab license, and says he'll also apply for health insurance.
ORKHAN ASKAROV: And guarantee that if anything happen to me, I'm going to be on good hands.
CORLEY: The non-profit Enroll America is running similar cabbie programs in Austin and in Philadelphia. The group's president, Anne Filipic, says they're trying different ways to reach out to the uninsured as the open enrollment deadline nears
ANNE FILIPIC: Our focus right now is 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.
CORLEY: 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.
RONALD BLOUNT: Most drivers in Philadelphia are earning less than $5 per hour, 12 to 16 hours per day, six to seven days per week.
CORLEY: Blount calls the Affordable Care Act a godsend, and says about 700 taxi drivers have already signed up there.
BLOUNT: Drivers were finding plans as cheap as $35, to maybe $60 per month. That's something they can afford, and these are really good health plans.
CORLEY: 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.
Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.
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