CHAMPAIGN — With a little more than six months to go before Illinois' new health insurance marketplace is set to open Oct. 1, a local consumer organization is launching a community education campaign to help Champaign County get ready.
The marketplace — also known as the health insurance exchange — is a cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 and it's intended to offer individuals, families and small businesses a chance to select more affordable health coverage options.
But a lot of information needs to be provided in upcoming months about who qualifies for this new marketplace, who can benefit from it, and how to sign up, according to Champaign County Health Care Consumers Executive Director Claudia Lennhoff.
"The Illinois health insurance marketplace will open on Oct. 1, 2013, and Health Care Consumers wants to help get our community ready for this," she said at a news conference Wednesday.
Her organization has developed educational materials that will be available in area libraries, Lennhoff said.
Lennhoff said Health Care Consumers is also starting a list to keep people informed of what steps to take at appropriate times involving the health insurance marketplace sign-up.
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"If you are under the age of 65 and are uninsured, under-insured, can't get insurance due to pre-existing health conditions, can't afford insurance, currently purchase your own health insurance plan or get insurance coverage through a small employer, the marketplace is for you," Lennhoff said.
Coverage through the marketplace begins at the start of 2014, a year in which nearly everyone will be required to have health insurance or pay a penalty starting at $95 per adult and $47.50 per child up to a family maximum of $285 or 1 percent of family income, whichever is greater.
The penalties increase each year: By 2016 and beyond, the penalty will be $695 for an uninsured adult and $347.50 for an uninsured child, and up to $2,085 for a family, or 2.5 of family income, whichever is greater.
People are hearing about the penalties but not about the financial help or the expanded Medicaid program that will help provide their coverage, Lennhoff said.
Premium assistance, called "advanced premium tax credits," will be available for income-eligible people under age 65 who buy insurance through the marketplace, she said.
The subsidies will be available to people with incomes from 139 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, which would be $15,500 to $44,680 for an individual. For a family of four, the income eligibility range is $32,000 to $92,200, according to Health Care Consumers.
Donna Jenkins, 59, of Urbana, said she's looking forward to enrolling in the new insurance marketplace option.
A former Blue Cross Blue Shield and Health Alliance employee, she said she became uninsured after she became disabled due to health problems.
Her 20-year-old uninsured grandson, who has asthma and high cholesterol, will also be able to benefit from the new insurance marketplace, she said.
"I can't wait to enroll in the marketplace Oct. 1 during open enrollment," Jenkins said.
Rick Royse, 58, of Monticello, said he will qualify for the expanded Medicaid coverage, based on his current income, and also plans to apply for coverage through the new marketplace.
Royse said he had insurance most of his adult life, but job losses have left him uninsured for five years.
"I don't like being uninsured," he said. "When you're uninsured, you feel insecure because you worry about something going wrong with your health, and you worry about how you're going to pay for health care if you need it," he said.