You might have heard the debates over Obamacare – the politics, the shouting, the last-minute deadlines.
Today, the Affordable Care Act takes flight, unless by some political miracle, congressional Republicans repeal it.
The health departments for Whiteside and Lee counties now have counselors in place to help the uninsured navigate the new marketplace for health care insurance.
Starting today, people can look at their insurance options at healthcare.gov as part of the Affordable Care Act.
In recent months, the federal government has scrambled to get ready for the launch of Obamacare. Much of the preparation has gone down to the wire: County health departments were expecting to get outreach materials from the federal government on Monday, one day ahead of the launch. And counselors received state and federal training only in the past few weeks.
Beth Fiorini, public health administrator for the Whiteside County Health Department, said her agency has already received about 40 inquiries about the Affordable Care Act.
“I have high hopes that it will be very successful for all of us,” she said. “It’ll work, and people will see that it works. Will it need to be tweaked? Sure, it will.”
Cathy Ferguson, administrator of the Lee County Health Department, said she’s happy that her agency is part of the effort to expand access to health care.
“It’s exciting and scary at the same time,” she said. “Anytime you increase access to health care, it’s good for public health.”
The Whiteside County department has three employees – Kelly Veltrop, Cory Law and Melissa Spangler – who will be dedicated to helping people enroll for health insurance, while Lee County is contracting with Rebecca Engelbarts to provide that service.
The counselors, whose salaries are federally funded, are certified to help people with the new law.
Engelbarts said she will focus on getting the word out about the law. She has already been speaking with small businesses, whose employees stand to benefit, she said.
“It’ll be exciting, but there will be bumps in the road,” she predicted.
Whiteside County’s counselors also plan to do mostly outreach at first.
Fiorini said a lot of misinformation is being spread about the Affordable Care Act.
“I was listening to the radio driving to Chicago; I heard people say things that were false,” Fiorini said. “They were saying you could only sign up in November or December. You can sign up for the next 6 months.”
About a third of the people who visit the Whiteside County department’s federally funded health clinic are uninsured, Fiorini said. The Affordable Care Act, she said, is an opportunity to get all of those people on Medicaid or some other insurance.
Engelbarts said counselors’ assistance will be especially important.
“For those who have been uninsured, they may not understand insurance lingo. This is a whole new world,” she said. “It’s a good thing for everyone. The expansion of Medicaid will help those without insurance.”
To learn more
800-318-2596 (available 24/7, 150 languages)
Whiteside County Health Department: 815-626-2230
Lee County Health Department: 815-284-3371, ext. 128