Affordable Care Act ‘Marketplace is open’

Lake County News-Sun
By Judy Masterson, jmasterson [at] stmedianetwork [dot] com, @JudyReport, October 1, 2013 8:08PM

Despite legislative efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act, and the resulting government shutdown, efforts to give access to health insurance to nearly 20.000 uninsured people in Lake County was full-steam ahead on Tuesday, Oct. 1.

“The state has rolled out their health insurance exchanges today,” Tony Beltran, Lake County Health Department executive director said. “The Marketplace is open.”

In-person counselors are still being trained on the electronic system through which people will be signed up, according to Beltran, but rates for insurance plans are now available.

Interactive maps, for locations of in-person counselors, are expected to come online this week at health.lakecountyil.gov.

In-person counselors were spending Tuesday learning to navigate the website they will use to enroll people.

“It’s the first time they’re seeing the system,” said Beltran, who noted that the health department and its 27 Enroll Lake County! partner agencies “are taking tons of calls.”

At the Waukegan Public Library, which Beltran declared “way ahead of the curve” on providing ACA information to patrons, three in-person counselors manned an information table. In the first hour, 15 names and contact information had been taken from people requesting follow-up information.

“They’re hesitant with anything that has to do with the law,” said ACA counselor Diana Wence of Waukegan, who underwent “20 grueling hours of training” for the job. “We want to reassure them they can come to us for assistance.”

In-person counselor Tatiana Alonso of Highland Park said she was excited to hear news accounts on Tuesday that, despite the government shutdown, ACA enrollment would forge ahead.

“This is a historic day,” Alonso said. “We’re a part of history. We’re change agents.”

The library has a target goal of engaging 236 people per month through March 31, 2014. Reference librarians and customer-service staff will also be taking names and numbers for ACA outreach.

“We expect to enroll 86 to 90 people per month,” said Carmen Patlan, the library’s director of community engagement. “As a library, we want an informed community that has the resources it needs.”

The library and 26 other partner agencies collaborated to obtain a $800,000 state grant to implement outreach for ACA.

Some agencies, Beltran said, will accept walk-in clients for enrollment, some only by appointment, and some will serve only their existing client base — all information that will be made available on the website.