On the mend

<p>Sarah Bowden of <a id=Naperville recently signed up for health insurance under the AffordableCare Act. | Jon Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media  

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Sarah Bowden of Naperville recently signed up for health insurance under the AffordableCare Act. | Jon Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media  

The shift to a new way of providing health care hasn’t been particularly easy. However, the ailments that plagued the early days for those enrolling, and those helping them with it, have seen their symptoms ease considerably.

“The process is going well,” said Mila Tsagalis, director of community initiatives for the DuPage County Health Department. “It’s definitely picked up pace since mid-November, when the Marketplace really started working better.”

The agency is overseeing Enroll DuPage, a collaborative effort to spread information about the Affordable Care Act and help people who need a hand navigating the process of signing up for new health coverage, using nearly $1.2 million in state and federal grant support. More than 77,000 residents have received information through the initiative’s community presentations, digital communication and news releases, and the dedicated call center has fielded some 10,400 telephone inquiries. More than 94,000 DuPage residents lack health insurance.

Clients still are experiencing some difficulties with the ACA’s enrollment website, healthcare.gov, but those problems are fewer than they were at the health reform’s launch, Tsagalis said.

Of the 3,264 DuPage residents who have signed up for health care plans, 421 used the Marketplace to arrange it, according to Health Department data. The remainder have signed up for coverage through expansions in Medicaid eligibility.

Enroll DuPage has 134 certified in-person counselors, known as IPCs or assisters, including 10 volunteers from the Loaves & Fishes Community Pantry in Naperville. The nonprofit, which provides a range of services for low-income residents in addition to its well-used hunger prevention program, has helped more than 250 clients with enrollment so far, Client Engagement Director Jane Macdonald said.

John Donoghue, a Naperville resident who is in physical therapy as part of his recovery from hip surgery, visited Loaves & Fishes Thursday, after having trouble signing up directly through the ACA website.

“John has been able to review the different plans on the Marketplace with Nina’s assistance,” said volunteer Margie Tarpey, who is managing the agency’s ACA sign-up help. “He is going to take this information and check with his provider to make sure that he will be covered under his chosen plan. John found a good plan that meets his budget and will provide the services he needs.”


Sometimes the enrollment goes smoothly, but not always.

“I think because of all the media attention and all the glitches in the software, this process is taking longer than we expected,” said Macdonald, who reported that people shared concerns about the “hardship” of signing up for health care. “It is challenging to get through that process, and even more so for Medicaid.”

Those seeking insurance can sign up without trouble, Tsagalis said, particularly when the process remains relatively straightforward. The forms sometimes have numerous moving parts, however, including applications for aid through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. When facilitated by an assister, enrollment generally takes two to three hours, Macdonald said. Those who have the most complications, she said, are immigrants and those who haven’t established credit.

“There are a lot of things that have been combined through this system,” she said.

Assisters are hearing some questions repeatedly from people coming in for help, Tsagalis said.

“I think the people that have concerns and issues are people that are being moved off their current plan to the Marketplace, where they have to choose their own insurance,” she said. “Most of the time, once people have had a chance to go through their options and choose, it goes well.”

The current enrollment period lasts until March 31. For those who sign up by Feb. 15, coverage takes effect on March 1.

Lawmaker talk

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, came to Addison last week to meet with some of those working to sign residents up through Enroll DuPage.

“I think the conversation with Sen. Durbin was very straightforward,” Macdonald said. “He asked for the comments and the challenges that everybody was facing. I think we were very honest about the problems in the software still.”

Sometimes in the midst of the enrollment process, information is rejected or there are other obstacles to moving ahead, Macdonald said. She found the meeting with the legislator rewarding and productive, and said he was attentive to the issues that were discussed.

“We were mostly all in accord,” she said. “The number-one concern was the backlog of applications, especially in the Medicaid area. … It just creates a concern among clients when it’s been 60 days and they haven’t heard anything.”

Tsagalis is optimistic that the ACA’s litany of woes will remain on the path to wellness.

“This is the first time we’ve done this,” she said. “So there is learning to be done.”

For more information, visit enrolldupage.org or getcoveredillinois.com.