CHAMPAIGN — Since Illinois' health insurance marketplace opened for business Tuesday, the number of people turning up for help at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District has dwindled.
District Administrator Julie Pryde said demand for trained counselors, now being called navigators, has thinned enough that it's likely she'll discontinue the training that some are still in the final stages of completing.
"It's really lagged off," she said Friday of people needing help enrolling in a health insurance plan under the Affordable Care Act.
Under a state grant, local health departments are serving as in-person assistance points for people needing help with the state marketplace, called Get Covered Illinois, and in the state Medicaid program.
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District has about 30 navigators who have been in the process of completing the federal part of the training to help with enrollment, but only a handful have completed all the training, Pryde said.
"We'll probably just have about half continue on with the federal part of the training, which may be too many," she said.
Pryde said about 30 people came for in-person help the first day the marketplace opened Tuesday, but only about 10 people sought in-person help on each of the next two days.
Mike Claffey, a spokesman for the state marketplace, said the state expects demand for in-person help to pick up later in the enrollment process.
As of the last update available Thursday, more than 70,000 people had used the screening tool on the Get Covered website, and more than 5,000 people had submitted applications for coverage for Medicaid, he said.
The Get Covered website had more than 1 million page views, which indicates people are checking it out and getting educated with what it has to offer, Claffey said.
"And that is really what the focus is for the month of October," he added.
Meanwhile, Pryde said the public health district will promote enrollment for health coverage through its mobile unit.
"We know we need to do more outreach to get people signed up," she said.
Pryde speculates one reason there hasn't been a lot of demand for in-person help is the Get Covered website "is pretty intuitive" and many signing up from home don't need help.
But, she also said, she also thinks there may be some "learned helplessness" to overcome. People who have been turned down for health coverage so many times just can't believe it's available to them now.
"It's kind of heartbreaking, that there are so many people that have been disenfranchised from the health care system for so long that even though there is this great opportunity now, that they don't think it is for them," she said.
Politics may also be scaring some people away, Pryde said. Talk about defunding Obamacare may have people thinking they'd be signing up for something that is destined to be taken away from them.
Vermilion County Health Department Administrator Shirley Hicks said only a few people have come looking for enrollment assistance at her department, and there haven't been many phone inquiries, either.
"More of our inquiries have been, 'Are you still open because of the government shutdown?'" she said.
The DeWitt Piatt Bi-County Health Department has gotten a lot of phone inquiries about signing up and is taking names and numbers from people wanting in-person help when certified staff can make that available, department Administrator Dave Remmert said.
Not everyone is through the training yet, he said, but one staff member has received certification in the mail, so in-person help should be available soon.