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Want insurance by Jan. 1? Deadline Monday for health plan under ACA

Updated: December 24, 2013 10:26AM



Monday is the last day for uninsured Illinoisans to buy a newly-created health insurance plan made possible by President Obama’s health care law, if they want to have their coverage kick in Jan. 1, 2014. But you have until March 31 to enroll in one of these plans for next year and still avoid paying a penalty.

The next deadline for people who have already chosen a plan is to pay the first premium before Jan. 10 to ensure the plan is actually effective Jan. 1 retroactively.

Buying an insurance plan on the online marketplaces at HealthCare.gov is only supposed to be for uninsured people who have an income between 133 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level (between $11,490 and $45,960 for an individual). Those who make less than that should qualify for Medicaid and can enroll at anytime without penalty.

The state of Illinois, insurers and those in charge of helping consumers get enrolled in a plan or Medicaid ramped up their efforts to get the word out about the Affordable Care Act as the first deadline — Dec. 23 —loomed.

As the deadline neared, so-called navigators and in-person counselors – two terms for the same role of getting uninsured people new options for health insurance – were out at hospitals and health care facilities, public libraries, churches, CTA stations and other sites in about 300 events over a 10-day period.

So far, only 7,043 Illinoisans had selected a private health policy on the new insurance marketplaces in October and November — a bigger number than in October, but fell short of what was expected. And it is not known how many of those people have actually begun paying for their insurance plan.

It’s too soon to tell if the push resulted in more uninsured Illinoisans seeking the new options for health insurance or if the majority of the people who did seek help qualified for private insurance or Medicaid.

Navigators said there is no question that since about Thanksgiving they are getting more calls and more visitors who want more information. They attributed that to more education about the Affordable Care Act and a better working website.

The trouble-plagued federally-run website, HealthCare.gov – where Illinoisans are supposed to shop for new insurance plans – has had issues since it launched on Oct. 1, but most navigators say there have been fewer issues since December.

“We have had larger numbers as the deadline of December 23 approaches, and as people have become more educated about the ACA,” Tomas Ramirez, an in-person counseling coordinator at Pilsen Wellness Center, said. “In the last two weeks we have participated in two different events with over 150 people.

At a Saturday enrollment at the Erie Division Street Health Center, 2418 W. Division in Chicago, about 200 people showed up to inquire about the Affordable Care Act. Roderick Harris, a spokesman for Erie, said they have definitely “experienced at increase overall in enrollment” since about Dec. 1. Of those, 180 people enrolled for health insurance.

Ricky Wright, 49, tried to do the same Thursday at an enrollment by Get Covered America at Lutheran Child and Family Services in his neighborhood, Uptown. He said he came to the event after getting a pamphlet on the law in the mail earlier in the week.

“I knew a little about [the Affordable Care Act before I got the pamphlet], but not much,” he said.

Wright has been uninsured and unemployed for two years since he lost his job as a supervisor at Jewel. He wasn’t able to apply because HealthCare.gov wouldn’t recognize a username for him, but said he would definitely be back. “Medical insurance is important,” Wright said. “Every day [I get nervous about not having coverage.]”

Victoria Maud Dynsu, who applied for Medicaid at the same location, had more luck.

The 61-year-old Uptown woman completed the process with the help of a navigator and when it kicks in Jan. 1, she’ll have health insurance for the first time since 2001, she said. Dynsu, who said she has high blood pressure and goes to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County twice a month, pays $250 to $300 for each visit.

“I will be happy…if I go to the hospital, to be covered,” she said.

Even if they missed the first deadline, people are encouraged to still find out if they’re eligible for coverage, Susan Vega, senior ACA outreach and enrollment programs manager for Alivio Medical Center.

“You can apply after the 23rd for coverage to start in February. So those are the kinds of things we’re going to continue to talk to people about making sure that everybody knows how it affects them.”

To get more information or where you can find a nearby navigator, visit www.getcoveredillinois or call 866-311-1119. The federal hotline is 800-318-2596. mjthomas@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MonifaThomas1



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