Tuesday is the day Americans can begin enrolling in health insurance marketplaces. These online exchanges are a key component of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. In Illinois, efforts continue to help the uninsured prepare to sign up.
On a sunny Friday morning, Barb Damian of Sycamore is headed to her doctor’s appointment at the DeKalb Clinic's Convenient Care Center. Meeting with health-care professionals is something she’s used to.
“I do have a lot of past medical history,” Damian says as she enters the building.
Damian is disabled. Her family gets help under the state’s I-CHIP program, which will end various forms of coverage January 1 as key portions of the Affordable Care Act go into effect. Damian says that has prompted her to seek out premiums offered through the Illinois insurance exchange. She plans to sign up right away.
“I’m nervous. You know – are they going to be able to keep the prices down?” Damian asks herself.
For people like Damian, navigators and counselors are in place to try to ease those nerves. Through a state grant, the DeKalb County Health Department has hired and trained new employees called in-person counselors. They will be on hand to offer guidance, especially for those who won’t be able to handle shopping for health insurance online.
More than 80 other county health agencies across the state have received such grants to add these workers to the payroll. Jane Lux, who runs the DeKalb County office, says it’s been a huge undertaking for her staff. She says they’ve been releasing basic information just to make sure those interested get a true understanding of what’s being offered.
“A lot of people don’t know what is a health insurance marketplace. So we are encouraging them to start to become familiar with that information,” Lux said.
Lux says they need to emphasize patience, because information continues to trickle in. It was only last week when Illinois got a sense of what the state’s price structure will be for premiums. And those details came in a broad report. Exact details for each of the 165 health plans being sold in Illinois were not expected until tomorrow. Lux goes on to say the new staffers will be helping out a wide range of people.
“Low literacy people -- generally, low income people, people with limited English ability,” Lux said.
It’s that last group that has captured some attention in recent days. Concerns have been raised about how eligible people who don’t speak English will be able to get all the details they need. The federal government does have a website, HealthCare.gov, that offers information in several languages. And Illinois, which currently has a federal-state exchange, also plans to provide additional help to remove language barriers as the process unfolds in the coming months. In the meantime, many community groups have stepped in to offer assistance.
As for the policy prices, states like Illinois say residents will pay slightly less than the national average for their coverage. With the exact rates not yet released, NIU health-care economist Jim Ciesla guesses the average premium on the exchange will cost between $250 and $350 per month.
“It’s important for people to remember that people from low-income groups can receive assistance with the premiums. It’s also important for people to remember they can write off the premium on their taxes,” Ciesla said.
And Ciesla notes prices will vary for different parts of the state.
“In a metropolitan area, the prices may be a little more expensive because of the age composition or the number of people they are able to ensure,” Ceisla said.
Like outreach officials, Ciesla says consumers should be prepared to exercise patience with the start of enrollment. Given the magnitude of the effort, he says hiccups can be expected as officials try to sign up millions of Americans hoping to secure affordable health insurance.