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County health department ready to help with new insurance marketplace

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013 4:55 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013 12:07 a.m. CDT

DeKALB – Thanks to a $92,000 state grant, the DeKalb County Health Department is training three new employees to help local residents with the new health insurance marketplace.

The county health department was among 82 statewide to receive the grant to help residents understand the insurance marketplace opening through the Affordable Care Act. The health department also is working with leaders at KishHealth System and local social service agencies to figure out how they can help each other help local residents with the new marketplace.

The insurance marketplace, also known as the Exchange, is a website that will help people and small businesses choose among many health insurance plans. The Exchange will open Oct. 1 and coverage will start Jan. 1.

DeKalb County Public Health Administrator Jane Lux said there is pent-up demand for having health insurance, and many people are wondering how they can get it. State officials have estimated more than 8,000 DeKalb County residents are uninsured, Lux said.

"One of our challenges is how do we meet the needs of all the people out there?" she said. 

Lux said the department has hired three part-time people who are training to become in-person counselors. The counselors are intended to help consumers understand their coverage options, determine their eligibility and enroll in a health insurance plan through the Exchange.  

Not everyone will be able to maneuver the Exchange without help, perhaps because they are not computer savvy, but the health department has experience helping people enroll in other programs such as Medicaid and Medicare, said Cindy Graves, director of the health and prevention division for the county health department.

"We've been helping people tag into resources they haven't been aware of for years," she said.

Details on the policies and their costs won't be available until the Exchange opens. That will present a challenge, Lux said, but everyone is prepared to be flexible and understand information about the Exchange is increasing daily. 

"This is a huge undertaking for our nation, obviously," Lux said. "So DeKalb County - we're a microcosm of that." 

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