Agencies to help transition to health care overhaul

Agencies to help transition to health care overhaul

CHAMPAIGN — Consider this the (brief) lull before the Affordable Care Act storm.

The biggest part of this overhaul of the health care system, requiring nearly everyone to have health insurance, will open Illinois' new insurance marketplace to shoppers Oct. 1, and folks are going to be hearing a lot more about that very soon.

The state last week awarded $27 million in federal funds to 44 community organizations to serve as Affordable Care Act promoters, educators and helpers through the enrollment process.

The organizations selected, several of which are in East Central Illinois, will be trained over the next few weeks and include public local health districts and departments, Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center in Mattoon and Campaign for Better Health Care.

The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District is getting $200,000 of a $5 million chunk of the grant money that went to the Illinois Association of Public Health Administrators, says Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Administrator Julie Pryde.

The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District will serve as the lead agency for health districts and health departments in 17 counties, and plans to do a lot of education, social media messaging and outreach, Pryde said.

"We've been gearing up for it for a long time because we knew it was coming," Pryde said.

Through this grant program, the public can come to public health locations in their own communities and get assistance enrolling in Medicaid or health plans in the new state marketplace, she said.

"Basically anyone who wants to sign up for the Affordable Care Act can come to the public health district," she said.

The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District district also has a new front lobby remodeling project that will tie in with ACA intake, Pryde said. The new design will allow anyone who comes into the building to undergo a financial intake process "to see where they shake out" for ACA forms of coverage, she said.

The Vermilion County Health Department is getting about $128,000 and will also be doing in-person enrollment assistance and education, according to its Administrator Shirley Hicks.

However, specific plans have yet to be made for all of that, she said. Staff will have to be trained and the grant will have to get through a county approval process which will require calling a special meeting in August, because another board meeting isn't scheduled until September.

"My first hurdle is accepting the grant because the turnaround time on this is very quick," she said.

Sarah Bush Lincoln, which received $267,000 in grant money, designed an outreach and education program for a seven-county area that includes Clark, Coles, Cumberland, Douglas, Edgar, Moultrie and Shelby counties, says Molly Daniel, grant specialist with the health system.

Sarah Bush Lincoln is awaiting staff training, but the basic plan is to go out to those counties and assist organizations with Affordable Care Act outreach and enrollment help and to also offer that assistance at its own Coles County campus.

Under consideration are outreach and education events at retail and grocery stores and other places people go, Daniel said.

Campaign for Better Health Care, a grass-roots coalition of more than 300 local and statewide organizations, got $250,000 to provide assistance, outreach and marketing throughout Illinois outside Chicago.

"We're going to be educating people," said the group's Executive Director Jim Duffett. "I think the reality is still 25 to 35 percent of the American public believe that Obamacare has been repealed."

Coverage in new health plans will start Jan. 1, and people with incomes from 138 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level will be eligible for subsidies on a sliding scale if they buy insurance through the state marketplace. It's been estimated nearly 1 million Illinois residents will be eligible for the subsidies.

Campaign for Better Health Care plans to get the word out by conducting educational forums, speaking at churches, meeting with business associations and other organizations, and likely assembling a packet of information that includes enrollment information and locations, Duffett said.

This roll-out isn't going to be like the start of Medicare and Social Security, in which everybody understood no matter what their education level, Duffett says.

This is going to be more complicated, he predicts, "but it's going to have a tremendous effect."

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