Will County Health Department readies Obamacare counselors
BY CINDY WOJDYLA CAIN firstname.lastname@example.org September 25, 2013 8:36PM
A view of the Will County Health Department building Friday, March 29, 2013, in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 28, 2013 6:31AM
JOLIET — As Republicans and Democrats debate the future of the Affordable Care Act in Washington D.C., the Will County Health Department is quietly gearing up to guide county residents through the new health insurance system.
Grants totaling about $548,000 will flow into the health department and its community health center this year and next as the major provisions of the new federally mandated health insurance program, informally known as Obamacare, begin to take effect.
“The two grants provide counselors who are going to be able to help people ... enroll and make informed decisions to get coverage that’s right for them,” health department spokesman Vic Reato said.
The Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace, which is a health insurance policy exchange with dozens of options, “is basically like an online store,” Reato said. The exchange is scheduled to be available starting Oct. 1.
The grant money is being used to hire and train six counselors for in-person outreach and education, Reato said. Counselors are needed because “a lot of people aren’t aware, and a lot of people are very indifferent” to the act’s requirements, said John Cicero, executive director of the Will County Health Department.
The 2010 ACA requires the majority of U.S. residents to obtain health insurance either through an employer, state health insurance exchanges or a government program.
The Will County Community Health Center at 1106 Neal Ave., Joliet, will receive $147,795 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Will County Health Department at 501 Ella Ave., Joliet, will receive $400,000 through the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Counselors at the health center will help some of the 23,000 patients who visit each year either enroll in either a private health insurance plan or the state’s expanded Medicaid program, Reato said.
Cicero said enrolling patients at the health clinic could save the county money because it will decrease how much the county has to subsidize patients who are uninsured or underinsured.
While counselors at the clinic will remain on site, counselors at the health department will go to job fairs, food pantries and other events and locations in the community where people without insurance are more likely to be found, Cicero said.
The health department is one of 44 vendors in the state receiving grant funds, Cicero told the county board’s public health and safety committee earlier this month. So health department officials plan to work with the other agencies “so we’re not kind of tripping over ourselves and doing the same thing,” he said.
If the state’s insurance marketplace is not up and running by Oct. 1 as scheduled, counselors will continue to receive training in the interim, Cicero said.
Once the insurance marketplace kicks in, counselors will work to enroll people in plans from Oct. 1 through March 31. But anyone who wants coverage to kick in by Jan. 1 must be enrolled by Dec. 15, Reato said. Subsidies are available on a sliding scale for people who are at 138 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, he said.
For more information, call the health department at 815-727-5990 and leave contact information. Calls will be returned once marketplace registration is underway, Reato said.
For general information about the Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace, consumers may visit www.healthcare.gov, or www.healthcarereform.illinois.gov.