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Elected representatives took to the stage at the Levy Center on Oct. 13 in the midst of an Obamacare rollout event as residents met with “assistors” along the back wall to review options and sign up.
Much of the event, however, centered upon the problems that have beset the program since its launch on Oct. 1 – problems exacerbated by the fact that only four of the 12 assistors scheduled to appear made it to the Levy Center.
U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky said the website on which residents can sign up for care had “far more glitches than is really acceptable.”
But she called the program “one of the best things we’ve done in the United States of America. … We’re going to get this worked out. It’s going to be great.”
Parts of the program were already working, thanks to an Illinois decision to open the Medicaid expansion portion of the program a year early, said State Senator Daniel Biss.
Tens of thousands have signed up in Cook County under “County Care,” he said. Medicaid expansion makes individuals without dependents eligible who were not eligible before because their income exceeded federal limits.
Obamacare allows states to produce their own “exchanges,” offering health insurance options to individuals and families regardless of pre-existing conditions or other limits that would have prevented coverage prior to the law or made cost-prohibitive.
State Representative Robin Gabel of Evanston said Illinois “was not quite ready” to create its own exchange, so, like most other states, Illinois entered a federal/state partnership for the first year.
Under the partnership, the federal government website handles the enrollment of applicants and the state handles customer service.
Rep. Gabel said Illinois would move away from the partnership as quickly as possible, generating its own website by 2015 – by 2016 at the latest. The problems with the federal website were only one reason. The state will “lose federal dollars if we don’t have an exchange,” she said.
Charles Watkins, the state’s regional outreach coordinator from Governor Quinn’s office, “apologize[d] for the delay today.”
He said that most Illinois residents will qualify for either expanded Medicaid or federal tax credits available to offset insurance premiums.
When asked why only four of 12 scheduled assistors showed up (the assistors were coordinated by the governor’s office), he directed reporters to the State’s media office saying all media requests had to go through that office.
State Representative Laura Fine, whose district includes parts of north Evanston, summed up the event: “Once all the glitches are worked out this program is going to be fabulous.”