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County helps locals enroll for health insurance

In-person counseling sessions help enrollees through process

Published: Monday, Nov. 4, 2013 11:48 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Dec. 9, 2013 8:32 a.m. CDT
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(Sarah Nader – snader@shawmedia.com)
Woodstock’s Lee Ann Stepina, project success coordinator at FamiliesETC, attends a session Wednesday to train people to serve as counselors to help residents sign up for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act at the McHenry County Department of Health in Woodstock. The state issued a $500,000 grant to help local agencies train counselors.

WOODSTOCK – After 60 hours of training, Lyn Orphal needs only 60 minutes to help residents sign up for health insurance in the new state-supervised marketplace.

Orphal is one of 12 in-person counselors trained to help McHenry County residents navigate through the new insurance marketplace website launched as part of the Affordable Care Act – a law designed to make health care more accessible and affordable while requiring most Americans to have and businesses to offer insurance or pay a fine.

The website – www.getcoveredillinois.org – has 60 insurance plans from four providers that can be difficult to navigate with different factors, such as income level and age, that determine eligibility, Orphal said.

“We want to speak a layman’s language to the consumer so there is a lot less fear of the unknown when they walk out,” Orphal said. “We want to take away some of the anxiety.”

In-person sessions have started for those eligible in the expanded Medicaid program. For example, an individual earning less than $15,856 a year or a household of two adults with a combined income of up to $20,628 are now eligible for Medicaid in Illinois.

The McHenry County Department of Health estimates that roughly 23,000 residents younger than 65 in McHenry County are eligible for low-cost insurance.

Those not eligible for Medicaid but seeking insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace can begin to sign up online for in-person counseling sessions on Monday at www.mcdh.info. But any official application may not be processed immediately because of continuing problems with the federal website, said Shelly Nicholson, coordinator of the Enroll McHenry County program.

“That’s not so different from what we had planned because we knew it wouldn’t be one visit to get it done,” Nicholson said of the need to schedule follow-up appointments because of processing delays. “It’s a lot to digest and people really need to think about their options so it would likely take longer than 60 minutes.”

Because of the website troubles plaguing prospective enrollees throughout the country, President Barack Obama extended the deadline for individuals to get insurance until March 31.

Nicholson said she hopes the $500,000 grant program she is heading can assist 8,000 residents in enrolling through the Marketplace before the grant ends in June 2014. She said about 150 calls have come into the health department about enrolling and expects that number to drastically increase with the other eight local agencies involved in the grant starting to offer in-person counseling.

Residents can set up appointments through the McHenry County Department of Health and partner institutions including Advocate Good Shepherd Health System, Advocate/Sherman Health System, Centegra, FamiliesETC, Family Alliance, Family Health Partnership Clinic and McHenry Community Clinic – Greater Elgin Family Care Center and Pioneer Center for Human Services.

Nicholson said residents can sign up for in-person sessions even if they would like to enroll later on from their home. The public also is invited to the numerous informational sessions held at libraries, churches and other community institutions.

“The whole point is to make [insurance] as accessible as possible,” Nicholson said. “There are some people who have never had insurance that don’t understand premiums or deductibles. We will help with all of that.”

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