Among Illinois counties, Whiteside and Lee are about in the middle of the pack in percentage of of uninsured people.
In Whiteside County, nearly 5,900 people under 65 are uninsured, about 12.4 percent. In Lee County, the percentage is slightly less at 11.5 percent, which represents about 3,100 people.
At 18.8 percent, Cook County has the greatest percentage of uninsured people. In southern Illinois, Monroe County’s rate of 8.2 percent is the lowest.
President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act seeks to lower the number of uninsured people. But the troubled rollout of the HealthCare.gov website slowed down enrollments in the health insurance exchanges.
Over the past couple of months, local residents have received notices that insurance companies were canceling their policies that didn’t meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare.
But after Obama delayed those requirements for a year, some have received follow-up notices extending their policies for that time.
Meanwhile, county health departments report that enrollments in the health insurance exchanges increased after the website was fixed.
“The Affordable Care Act is now working beautifully,” said Beth Fiorini, public health administrator for the Whiteside County Health Department. “We’re putting people on it like crazy. We’re not having any problems with it now. Every single hour, we’re having people sign up.”
As of Dec. 6, the department’s three employees who are designated for enrollments had signed up 287 people – 209 for the expansion in Medicaid coverage and 78 for insurance on the exchanges, most of them in recent weeks.
And that’s not counting those who enrolled on their own or through some other organization.
More than one-third of the people who visit Whiteside County’s federally funded clinic are uninsured, Fiorini said.
“I’m hoping that with the Affordable Care Act, they will have a payment source,” she said.
When the number of insured people increases, Fiorini said, “everyone has some skin in the game; insurance is always better if you have more people in the pool.”
Cathy Ferguson, public health administrator for the Lee County Health Department, said her agency went through the same frustrations with the HealthCare.gov site as everyone else did when it was rolled out in October.
“It was so disheartening and disappointing,” she said. “I knew in my gut that it would work eventually. We have turned the corner.”
The Lee County department has a part-time contractor, Rebecca Engelbarts, handling the enrollments.
“She is getting referrals right and left now,” Ferguson said. “We are so thrilled to get people enrolled.”
As of Dec. 6, the Lee County Health Department had enrolled far fewer people than its Whiteside County counterpart – 29 for Medicaid expansions and 16 for insurance on the exchanges.
Engelbarts is booked solid through Dec. 23, which is the the deadline to enroll for insurance coverage that goes into effect Jan. 1.
“I’m trying to get help from other counties,” she said. “I’m trying to get more people enrolled. I’ve had quite a few who liked their experience; things have worked out well for them.”
Here are the 2011 percentages of uninsured residents in various counties in Illinois and their rankings among the state's 102 counties, with 1 being the county with the greatest proportion of uninsured:
County; % uninsured; Ranking
Bureau 12.9% 36
Carroll 13.5% 23
Lee 11.5% 75
Ogle 12.0% 66
Whiteside 12.4% 53
Boone 14.7% 11
Cook 18.8% 1
DeKalb 13.2% 31
Douglas 17.6% 2
Henry 77 11.4%
Lake 12.3% 55
LaSalle 12.4% 51
McHenry 10.9% 86
Rock Island 13.0% 35
Winnebago 14.8% 10
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, University of Illinois at Chicago