Looming health care deadline keeping navigators busy

Last date to sign up is March 31

For years, Pastor Zina Jacque did everything she could to avoid buying insurance through her church.

But after being dropped from her husband’s Blue Cross Blue Shield plan following a knee and hip replacement and going uninsured for about 18 months, she begrudgingly signed up for a plan with her Community Church of Barrington, which has premiums of more than $1,300 a month, she said.

And after being told the church was going to end that program altogether in 2014, Jacque decided to see what options were available through the health insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. Last week, she met with a health care navigator in McHenry who walked her through the www.healthcare.gov website, ultimately finding Jacque a plan that costs $740 a month.

“I have a car that has 185,000 miles. I finally have the ability to purchase a new one,” Jacque said. “My contributions to community agencies have been severely limited (while under the previous health insurance). I can see room and space to do that again. I’ll no longer worry month to month.”

Jacque is one of more than 1,800 people who have enrolled in President Barack Obama’s health insurance initiative at a McHenry County location, according to Enroll McHenry County grant coordinator Shelly Nicholson. The deadline to sign up for the health plans is March 31, but the Obama administration announced an extension for those who have started the online application but haven’t finished it. The extension date has not been announced.

As of March 11, 113,733 Illinois residents have enrolled in the health insurance marketplace, and an additional 200,000 have enrolled in ­Medicaid under the ACA, according to information provided by Get Covered Illinois. About 54 percent of those enrolled are women, and 24 percent are 18- to 34-year-olds, which is in line with the national average.

Nationally, more than six million people have signed up for health insurance under the ACA, which exceeded the administration’s revised target but fell short of the initial goal of seven million, according to the Obama administration.

McHenry County received a $500,000 federal grant to train employees and set up enrollment locations across the area. Nicholson said she is pleased with the 1,800 people who enrolled at one of the locations, adding the number doesn’t include those who enrolled online, likely making the number of people who signed up much higher.

Last fall, the ACA was the subject of intense scrutiny when website glitches created numerous problems for people trying to access the site. Nicholson said although the initial website problems hurt health care enrollment, things picked up at the beginning of the year.

“The system got resolved by January,” she said. “We’ve received 70 percent of our business since then. It was slow in the beginning, but it’s picked up a lot since then.”

In fact, Nicholson said the Affordable Care Act’s early high-profile blunders could have actually benefited enrollment overall. As it garnered more and more media attention, the calls asking about coverage become more frequent, she said.

“The attention it got in October in the national media got it on people’s radar,” she said. “They wanted to hear more about it. The negative media attention turned into a boom for us.”

One of the best performing health care navigator sites in the county was a team led by Judy Linarez, who enrolled people in McHenry and Crystal Lake locations. Linarez’s team was the top performing enrollment site in the state last week, Nicholson said.

“There’s been some bumps in the road with the website,” Linarez said. “But everything since then has been going good.”

Linarez said most of the people she has served, like Jacque, have saved over half of what they were paying through private insurance.

“I’ve gotten a lot of hugs since October,” she said.

Enroll McHenry County walk-in appointments
Saturday: 4103 Shamrock Lane in McHenry from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sunday: 527 W. South St. (Atrium) in Woodstock from 6 to 9 p.m.
Monday: 2200 N. Seminary Ave., Building A, in Woodstock from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; 527 W. South St. in Woodstock (Atrium) from 6 to 11 p.m.; 450 West Highway 22 in Barrington (ER entrance) from 6 to 11 p.m.

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