LA GRANGE – A La Grange organization has been given the difficult task of reaching thousands of uninsured who are eligible for new federally mandated health insurance.
Community Nurse Health Center recently received two grants – one state and one federal – totaling $224,000 that it will use to reach uninsured residents mainly within Lyons and Proviso Townships. The goal is to make them aware of new insurance options available under the Affordable Care Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010 as the biggest expansion of government healthcare since Medicare and Medicaid were introduced in 1965.
The law intends to make health care more affordable and requires that all citizens apply for health insurance. But a recent survey showed that 60 to 80 percent of those eligible in Illinois aren’t aware of the new law, said Angela Curran, Community Nurse’s CEO.
“You're dealing with a population that for the most part has been uninsured their whole lives,” said Curran.
Through the grant, Community Nurse is partnering with a number of other organizations in hopes of reaching a chunk of the 35,000 people in Lyons and Proviso Townships it estimates are eligible for expanded state Medicaid or federally-subsidized insurance.
To be eligible, a person must be at 400 percent or lower of the federal poverty line. Those at 200 percent or lower, which translates to $22,190 for a single person or $47,100 for a four-person household, will be eligible for subsidies.
Individuals in lower income brackets who do not apply for insurance face a $600 fine on their tax returns, Curran said. In theory, at least. Curran said many who are currently uninsured don’t file taxes. Moreover, even with subsidies, new insurance plans will still cost them about $1,600 a year, Curran said, so some might be willing to take a $600 fine.
Community Nurse’s grant will allow it to hire five full-time staff to help enroll people in the program. One will focus on the organization’s existing patients, while four will target the uninsured by distributing e-newsletters and signs and visiting schools, libraries, park districts and hospitals. Curran said the outreach staff will likely be fluent in English and Spanish and that the organization is looking for partners to help reach the significant Arabic-speaking population in the southern portion Lyons Township.
The organization is also seeking a space to open a workshop that it would fill with computers and other resources to help enroll people in the program. Staff will be allowed to click through the steps for those who don’t know how to use a computer or don’t understand the language.
Enrollment begins Oct. 1, and benefits kick in Jan. 1 of next year.
"The timeline is really what concerns me the most,” Curran said. “The implementation was delayed a lot because everybody was waiting to see what the Supreme Court ruling [which upheld the law] would be last summer. And it's just been a mad rush to get this up and going.”
Curran said Community Nurse staff already help people enroll in insurance programs, but the scope of this project is unprecedented.
“Knowing what it takes to get somebody enrolled … It's not one face-to-face encounter,” Curran said. “It's probably three or four face-to-face encounters. My one concern is we've all underestimated how much work this is going to take."
Of the 35,000 area residents eligible, Curran said Community Nurse is hoping to reach half of them and enroll at least 6,000. She said the state hopes to enroll 45 percent of the eligible population, which she thinks is highly ambitious.
Marketing firm Fleishman-Hillard recently won a $35 million state contract to market the Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace, the online exchange where individuals and small businesses can buy health insurance.
"There will be a process where a person can input information … and by feeding all that information, my understanding is that the website will explain to them well this is what you're potentially eligible for,” Curran said.
Those interested in Community Nurse’s outreach positions can apply at www.workinillinois-healthmarketplace.jobs.