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Neighborhood network eyes ACA push

LISC Chicago’s Neighborhood Network is gearing up for a tidal wave of change around health care as implementation begins this year on the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

At a “Healthy Wednesday” session on April 3, more than 65 organizers, financial counselors and health care practitioners got a quick course on how the landmark program will roll out, and what it will take to enroll thousands of newly eligible individuals.

Photo: Courtesy Illinois Health Matters

Data from Illinois Health Matters show that the African American and Latino communities where LISC Neighborhood Network partners are concentrated have faced the biggest deficits in health insurance to date -- and have the most to gain from Affordable Care Act implementation.

“This is the first of many conversations we’ll have about ACA and how we are going to plug into this massive thing,” said LISC Program Officer Dominique Williams. “It’s a huge opportunity for our neighborhoods.”

The ACA law makes 730,000 people in Cook County eligible for expanded Medicaid coverage or subsidized health insurance. Another 130,000 will be able to buy insurance without a subsidy on the state’s new health insurance web portal, nicknamed ABE for Applications for Benefits Eligibility.

“I’ve been in this field for 24 years, and this is the biggest change in all that time,” said Stephanie Altman, programs and policy director for Health and Disabilities Advocates, which is helping train organizations for new ACA-related roles. “It’s a big enrollment challenge, more than the AllKids program [health coverage for low-income children]; it comes close to the scale of Medicare Part D enrollment.” 

Central to meeting that challenge will be networks of trained helpers who will educate consumers about their choices and connect them to the ABE portal, which launches October 1. The portal will determine each person’s eligibility category based on information that the enrollee enters into the system.

Three types of helpers will be used: Navigators, In-Person Assistors and Certified Applications Counselors. Some of them will be hired by community-based organizations, with federal and state funding.

Photo: Courtesy Illinois Health Matters

Illinois Health Matters has broken down profiles of uninsured adults and what they'll be eligible for under the ACA in communities across Chicago.

Illinois was awarded $115.8 million by the federal government on April 8 to support its health insurance marketplace. “A large portion of this federal funding will pay for outreach activities and consumer assistance” according to Stephani Becker, project director for Illinois Health Matters, who also participated in the April 3 workshop.

On the Illinois Health Matters blog, she referenced research from Enroll America that shows 78 percent of the uninsured don’t know about the new health insurance exchanges, and 83 percent who could be eligible for the new Medicaid expansion don’t know about it.

A “tremendous amount of work needs to get done to tell people about the new options and enroll them into a plan,” Becker wrote.

LISC partners likely to be involved in ACA promotion and enrollment are its Centers for Working Families, where financial counselors can help clients understand their enrollment options; LISC lead agencies, many of which are already involved in health programming; and other community-based organizations involved with health care.

See a schedule of deadlines and program milestones on the Illinois Health Matters blog. For details on program eligibility and categories, download the April 3 presentation by Health and Disability Advocates’ Stephanie Altman and Stefani Becker.

Photo: Courtesy Illinois Health Matters

Illinois Matters features an online mapping tool at

For more information on LISC Chicago’s Healthy Communities campaign, contact Program Officer Dominique Williams, or (312) 422-9571.

LISC Chicago’s health work is funded in part by the Otho S. A. Sprague Memorial Institute.

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