(from left) Sandra and Audelia De la Cruz are helped by Benefit Specialist Robi Velasquez Friday at VNA Health Care in Aurora. | Mary Beth Nolan/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 6, 2013 6:12AM
Those charged with helping people navigate the new Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace, established under the health care reform law, say they saw tears and determination from those they assisted this week.
And as demand overwhelmed the federal website and blocked people from shopping for insurance, patience prevailed, they said.
“They were happy; some of them just lost jobs within this year and are struggling with medical bills,” said Sandra Scott, a navigator at VNA Health Care in Aurora, who helped the uninsured enroll in the expanded Medicaid program.
VNA, which has 40 navigators, experienced problems with the state website, GetCoveredIllinois.gov, where people could apply for Medicaid; and the federal site, HealthCare.gov, where they could apply for private insurance.
So said Cheryl O’Donoghue, VNA Health Care spokeswoman: “We decided to go the paper route,” with the Medicaid applications.
But people took the glitches in stride and were happy to have access to coverage, she said.
“One woman had tears in her eyes,” she shared. “She had never been able to get insurance. She had a pre-existing condition.”
South-East Asia Center in Chicago assisted about 100 callers and 20 walk-ins, said San O, an in-person counselor. One person applied for Medicaid. Attempts to help people shop for private insurance were unsuccessful.
“We tried many times to get people on the [federal] site,” but due to delays caused by the glitches, people couldn’t wait, she said. “They know they have until Dec. 15 to apply for coverage beginning Jan. 1. So, they were very understanding and very patient. They think it’s something they need, so how ever long it takes, they want to get it.”
At Erie Family Health Center, “It was a very busy week,” said Iliana Mora, chief operating officer.
Navigators there fielded about 100 calls and 100 walk-ins and enrolled 35 people in Medicaid.
“One patient is a diabetic who was laid off and needs routine care,” Mora said. “Another patient has a seizure disorder and had no insurance. People are relieved.”
More than 5,000 people applied this week for the expanded Medicaid program, according to the state. The federal government has not released data on how many people enrolled for private insurance through the Illinois marketplace.
Brian Gorman, director of outreach and education with GetCoveredIllinois.gov., said this month much of the focus here isn’t on enrollment.
“Strategically, education is the primary focus, getting people familiar with the website,” he said. “We never wanted to pressure [people] to enroll right away. When buying health insurance, they need the time and space” to get educated.