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Updated: November 28, 2013 6:29AM



If problems persist with the health insurance marketplace federal website, Westside Health Authority’s Percy Giles is concerned it will keep his Chicago organization from reaching its goal of enrolling 900 people in health plans by mid-November.

But he’s not getting sick over that possibility.

The ability of the uninsured to get insurance “will just be delayed a little longer,” but they’ll ultimately get coverage, said Giles, whose organization has completed 95 Medicaid applications so far.

With the federal government’s problems preventing many people from shopping and buying private insurance on the site nearly four weeks since exchanges opened across the country, his panic-free attitude mirrors that of others here charged with helping the uninsured get coverage.

Under the Affordable Care Act, consumers will face fines if they don’t have insurance. They must enroll by Dec. 15 for coverage to start Jan. 1, but open enrollment extends to March 31.

State marketplace representatives aren’t worried about the Dec. 15 deadline.

“We never saw this as something to panic about,” said Kelly Sullivan, spokeswoman for GetCovered
Illinois.gov. “What we said was we are moving the needle from uninsured to insured continuously through the next one and two years.”

Last week, President Barack Obama expressed frustration with the HealthCare.gov site’s problems and said a tech surge was underway to fix them. The administration also disclosed it will push back the date at which consumers would face penalties for not signing up for insurance from mid-February to March 31. The problems prompted a Congressional hearing.

The state site has been free of the prolonged technical problems that have plagued the federal website. GetCoveredIlinois.gov has attracted more than 400,000 visitors — 300,000 of them first-time visitors — and received roughly 25,000 Medicaid applications, said Julie Hamos, Illinois Healthcare and Family Services director. “It is providing an efficient way for people to come into the Medicaid system. ... Twenty-five thousand, that’s a good number for the first month,” she said.

The state’s goal is to enroll 199,000 people in the expanded Medicaid program next year. In the private insurance arena, its goal is 337,000 from the individual marketplace and 149,000 from small employers.

The Illinois site enables people to apply for Medicaid and routes those who don’t qualify to the federal site, where they can shop for private insurance, but that site has had technical problems.

“I would be lying if I didn’t say that I had hoped that things would be smoother,” said John Shustitzky, CEO of the Alliance for Human Services in Lake County. But given this is day 26 in a 180-day open enrollment period, “we’re not worried about making our numbers,” he said.

The organization is part of Enroll Lake County, which has a goal to enroll 21,800 people for insurance by the end of June.

Westside Health Authority’s goal is 6,000 people the first year, Giles said.

The groups are among 44 community organizations the state is partnering with to help people enroll.

“We’re very optimistic that in November things will be OK,” Giles said. “If not, if someone attempts to enroll in a plan and is not able to do so, as soon as we know that the situation is better, we will notify them.”

Email: Fknowles@suntimes.com

Twitter: @KnowlesFran



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