CHAMPAIGN — If you plan to seek in-person help signing up for coverage in Illinois' health marketplace when it opens Tuesday, you may have a hard time finding a certified counselor.
On the eve of the Get Covered Illinois marketplace opening, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District had just three of its 30 marketplace counselors through all the required training — meaning only three counselors will be available to actually enroll people in marketplace health plans Tuesday, district Administrator Julie Pryde said Monday.
But the rest of the counselors will still be available to answer questions and assist with triage and computer access, Pryde said.
"We think there will be a lot of triage-ing, because people won't have all the information they need to sign up," she said.
As of late Monday afternoon, none of the Vermilion County Health Department staff's was certified to do marketplace enrollment, according to that department's Administrator Shirley Hicks.
"We can't log in and assist in the enrollment to date, and I don't anticipate that happening for a week until people have time to complete the training," she said.
Even after the training is completed, Hicks said, her department's in-person counselors need to be certified by the Illinois Department of Insurance before they're allowed to do enrollment.
What's currently holding up certification is finishing the federal piece of training, she and Pryde say.
All Champaign-Urbana's counselors got through the state training, but the federal training has to be completed after the state training, Pryde said.
The system has been clogged and it takes "way too much time," she said.
Pryde said she had hoped to have seven people available to start doing enrollment in Champaign on Tuesday. But even with some of her staff working through this past weekend on the federal training, it couldn't be completed by most on time.
"It's a very, very long training, with the exams and everything," Pryde said. "Clearly I can't just drop every single thing I'm doing to focus on this."
In-person counselors for marketplace enrollment help are being provided at local public health departments through a state grant.
Hicks said getting her counselors through the training has been further complicated by the fact a budget amendment to accept the state grant money wasn't approved in her county until September.
Hicks was in the midst of doing her own federal training Monday afternoon, she said.
Trying to keep people logged into the system has been a problem, she added.
"I'm logged in right now and it's slow," Hicks said. "But I haven't had any problem with it kicking me out or anything."
Some things to keep in mind for those concerned about enrollment help, she and Pryde said:
— Tuesday is just the start of a six-month enrollment period.
— Actual coverage on the marketplace health plans won't begin until Jan. 1, 2014.
— People can enroll themselves from any computer without the help of in-person counselors.
"People who are in dire straits for insurance are not going to have coverage until January, no matter what," Hicks said.
In-person counselors are available to enroll people who can't manage the electronic piece of it, Hicks said, but "if you want to log in, in your jammies tomorrow, at any time, you can."
For those who do want in-person help starting Tuesday:
— The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, 201 W. Kenyon Road, C, will have in-person counselors available from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.
The district has four computers available for the public to use to enroll in health plans, and Pryde said there will be staff helping with computer use.
— The Vermilion County Health Department, 200 S. College St., Danville, will be open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
— For other health departments in East Central Illinois: Due to some back-ups in completing training, Pryde advises calling your health department ahead Tuesday to check hours and what help will be available in your county.