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Countdown over, Affordable Care Act takes off Tuesday

Updated: November 2, 2013 6:21AM



Listen up, uninsured: Tuesday is the first day you can see if you’ll qualify for new options for health insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. It’s also the first day Illinoisans should finally be able to get a good sense of how much that new insurance might cost.

Low-income people who are not currently eligible to apply for Medicaid can now start enrolling in the state-federal health care program, now that the law signed by Gov. Quinn has kicked in. And those who make a little more should now be able to find more affordable health insurance options on Illinois’ new marketplace, known as Get Covered Illinois.

Both groups should be able to visit www.getcoveredillinois.gov to figure out what they qualify for.

That’s also the site where Illinoisans can finally figure out if the new health care plans offered will live up to the hype. Gov. Quinn and U.S. Health and Human Services have released some examples that suggest it will, but a full list of the 165 plans that are supposed to be available on the Get Covered Illinois website won’t be released until Tuesday.

About 1.6 million uninsured live in Illinois. Undocumented people will remain uninsured because they’re not eligible to apply for Medicaid or the new insurance plans on the marketplace.

Consumers can enroll in the marketplace Oct. 1 through Dec. 15 for coverage that begins Jan. 1, although the full open enrollment period for 2014 coverage extends through March 31. People applying for Medicaid, though, can enroll at any time.

Newly eligible Medicaid enrollees must be between 19 and 64, make less than roughly $15,860 for an individual and have been a legal immigrant for at least five years or be a U.S. citizen. Qualifying for Medicaid used to be more restrictive. (Cook County residents already have that right through CountyCare.)

Consumers can call the Help Desk to get information at (866) 311-1119, a toll-free number. The call center will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week, the state government said.

The federal government also has a call center at (800) 318-2596 and a website at healthcare.gov.

For those who want a little more help, there will also be so-called “navigators” trained to walk people through the process on the marketplace.

State officials recommended that people interested in getting some help with the marketplace call ahead to their local community organization designated as a Get Covered Illinois partner and schedule in advance an appointment with a navigator. Illinois residents can find a list of partner organizations by visiting www.getcoveredillinois.gov beginning Tuesday, the state said.

But don’t expect to see a whole lot of navigators actually out Tuesday.

“Over the past months, we’ve already done many events with large and small groups — all excited to learn about the Affordable Care Act and eager to sign up,” noted Molly McAndrew, manager of the In-Person Counselor Program at AIDS Foundation of Chicago.

And there are quite a few events planned for October and beyond.

However, very few organizations in charge of recruiting these navigators said they had any specific plans for Tuesday.

Several health care experts have noted that Oct. 1 is just the starting date and that it will likely take time for uninsured people to actually apply for an insurance plan.

Email: mjthomas@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MonifaThomas1



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