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Insurance deadline looms; help available

Published: Monday, March 24, 2014 9:19 p.m. CDT

DeKALB – There’s still time to sign up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act without paying a penalty, but not much. The deadline is March 31.

“We encourage anyone who needs health insurance to enroll now,” DeKalb County Public Health Administrator Jane Lux said.

DeKalb County residents who need help navigating the health insurance marketplace can get free help at the county health department, 2550 N. Annie Glidden Road. They can call 815-758-6673 to set an appointment. Cindy Graves, director of community health and prevention at the department, said counselors will come to any residents who can’t make it to the office. There is an information sheet at dekalbcounty.org/health.

Those who need no help can sign up for a plan at www.getcoveredillinois.gov.

Graves said counselos can help people determine if they need private insurance or if they qualify for Medicaid. If a person doesn’t qualify for tax credits, Graves said, they will review the pluses and minuses of available plans and answer questions. The appointment usually takes about an hour.

“There’s a lot to go over,” Lux said. “The thing we learned is it’s not as easy as buying a lot of other items. A lot of research goes into this.”

Graves said many people have been misled by misinformation in the national media, mainly about how much private insurance costs.

“A lot of people still think, ‘I’m just not going to do it, because I can’t afford it,’” she said. “But we’ve seen some amazing plans through the marketplace because they get tax credit. They get a nice plan for very little on their premiums.”

Two huge benefits, Graves said, are that insurance companies can’t ask about pre-existing conditions and there’s no dollar limit. Also, healthy young people can start preventative programs that may catch things like high blood pressure early and get them under control before they lead to more serious complications.

Lux said counselors have received some very emotional feedback from people who are grateful and happy to finally have insurance.

“We are hearing the most amazing stories,” she said. “Many of our clients just end up in tears because they can’t believe they are finally going to get the treatment or the medication they need. They’re finally going to be able to apply for jobs and go to work again. It’s been quite an experience for us.”

Although the assistance is free, penalties will be assessed for those who fail to meet the March 31 deadline for private insurance. For this year, the penalty is 1 percent of a person’s adjusted gross income or $95 per person. Penalties increase in 2015 and 2016.

There is no deadline to apply for Medicaid.

Lux noted that there will be another open enrollment for health insurance next year. She advises anyone who misses the signup this year to keep doing research and asking questions.

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