Help with health plans available

Counselors ready to assist residents with Affordable Care Act signup

Enrollment for the Affordable Care Act began Oct. 1, and with it came a wealth of information about what coverage is available and for whom it’s available.

With dozens of plans ranging in coverage, breadth and services, navigating the system can seem overwhelming. But starting at the end of October, McHenry County residents will be able to work one on one with a counselor who will help them make an educated choice about their health care plan.

The McHenry County Department of Health received a $500,000 grant in July to appoint 15 employees as in-person counselors to assist residents with applying for President Barack Obama’s new health initiative. Through a program called Enroll McHenry County, the in-person counselors will hold appointments at local libraries, town halls and food pantries through June.

The health department will first hold the one-on-one sessions at area libraries and will begin setting up appointments in the next couple of weeks, said Shelly Nicholson, McHenry County Department of Health grant coordinator for Enroll McHenry County.

“We were very excited to get the grant,” Nicholson said. “We do have a lot of people who are uninsured in the county. We want to reach out and help people get insurance.”

Nicholson said that McHenry County got the grant in part because of its roughly 23,000 residents – or 11 percent of the county – who are under 65 and uninsured. The in-person counselors will walk people through getting insured by explaining health insurance terminology and presenting the options that are available, Nichols said.

“The people we want to help might not be educated on the terminology,” Nichols said. “These in-person counselors can sit down over an hour appointment and walk them through health insurance terms like co-pays and deductibles … so they can make educated choices about their plan.”

Employees from the Pioneer Center, Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital, Centegra Hospital, FamiliesETC, Greater Elgin Family Care in McHenry, the Family Health Partnership Clinic and the McHenry County Health Department received funds from the grant and will hire or appoint in-person counselors to go out into the county.

Suzanne Hoban, executive director of the Family Health Partnership Clinic, said her clinic’s counselor will begin taking appointments in two weeks and will be a valuable asset to the community.

“Not everybody has computers,” Hoban said. “There may be some language barriers. … We want to make sure people aren’t stuck because they don’t know what a word means or it’s too overwhelming.”

Once the health department confirms the dates with the local libraries, McHenry County residents will be able to register for an in-person counseling session online at www.mcdh.info.

Until then, people can call the McHenry County Health Department at 815-334-4510 to request a call when appointments are open or to receive more information.

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