With the March 31 open enrollment deadline looming, Affordable Care Act navigators at the Illinois Eye Institute have been busy for the past five months helping consumers sign up for health insurance coverage through appointments at the Illinois Eye Institute and at outreach events throughout Chicago.
Last August, ICO was the recipient of a $504,016 federal Navigator Grant. The funds have gone toward helping consumers understand coverage options with the implementation of the ACA. The IEI has 26 certified navigators on staff, eight of whom are dedicated completely to ACA activities. Through late February, navigators had reached 2,965 consumers at both the IEI and at 20 citywide outreach events. Of the 498 consumers that navigators have enrolled in coverage, 24 percent are IEI patients.
“We are trying to target patients who are on Illinois Department of Human Services grants or who are not insured,” says Akhilesh Duratkar, clinical analyst at ICO. Navigators typically see 30-40 consumers per week at the IEI. Most consumers have scheduled appointments, but walk-ins are also accepted.
“It’s a great feeling to help people enroll for insurance coverage,” says navigator Jacqueline Saulsberry, a service coordinator at the IEI. “So many people aren’t aware of what’s available and they don’t know how to go about enrolling. A lot of people are under the impression they need to pay to enroll. When we explain to them that it’s free to enroll, they’re really happy.”
The vast majority of consumers–93 percent–whom IEI navigators have enrolled are Medicaid-eligible. Others must enroll through the health insurance marketplace, which is financially challenging for some.
“They may be eligible for a tax credit, but they would still have to pay $200 or $300 a month for insurance, and they can’t afford it,” says Saulsberry. “It’s kind of sad, because their hopes were so high.”
Following March 31, navigators will continue to conduct outreach efforts and provide enrollment assistance to consumers exempt from the deadline, including noncitizens and those who have a qualifying “life event,” like getting married or having a child.