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Locals get educated on health care plans

Investigation into website underway

Published: Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013 11:43 p.m. CST • Updated: Friday, Oct. 25, 2013 12:21 a.m. CST
Caption
(AP photo)
Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president of CGI, listens at left as Andy Slavitt, representing QSSI's parent company, testifies Thursday on Capitol Hill in Washington before the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing with contractors that built the federal government's health care websites. The contractors responsible for building the troubled Healthcare.gov website say it was the government's responsibility – not theirs – to test it and make sure it worked.

DeKALB – DeKalb County health officials so far have had more success in educating local people about the Affordable Care Act than they have had in getting them to enroll on the federal health insurance online marketplace.

The health department, which received federal funds to inform DeKalb County residents about the new health care law, has met with at least 60 people and has or will meet with several groups in the coming weeks, Public Health Administrator Jane Lux said Thursday.

“We’re still doing a lot of meeting with people individually and in groups because it’s fairly complex to learn about,” Lux said, “and people are very interested in learning and there’s a lot to do before you actually get to enrollment.”

While lawmakers Thursday in Washington were seeking answers about the botched rollout of the federal health insurance marketplace, www.healthcare.gov, Lux said many local people are seeking answers on how the law will affect them and what assistance they could qualify for when buying health insurance.

For those who are uninsured, there’s a lot to learn about the different tiers of plans available, the different providers and the different costs. Also, depending on a person’s income level, they can be eligible for subsidies or tax credits.

Those whose earnings are 133 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for expanded Medicaid coverage through the state of Illinois, and can enroll through the state’s website, Lux said.

“We have been enrolling people through the Medicaid expansion,” Lux said. “… A lot of what we’re doing is talking through those kinds of things with people, looking at their income, looking at the variables and looking at the choices they’ll have to consider and that kind of thing.”

In Washington, contractors who built the Web portal for the Obama administration’s health insurance marketplace said the site’s crippling problems trace back to insufficient testing and changes that government officials made just before going live.

The first congressional hearing into what went wrong dug into issues of website architecture and testing protocols – but also re-stoked the partisan battle over President Barack Obama’s signature expansion of health coverage for millions of uninsured Americans. Republicans who’ve been trying to kill the program for the past three years sounded outraged that it is being poorly carried out, while Democrats jeered them as political hypocrites.

Among those representatives at the hearing was Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, whose 16th Congressional District includes much of DeKalb County, including DeKalb and Genoa.

“Clearly, there were problems from the beginning with the planning and design of this website,” Kinzinger said in a statement. “With hundreds of millions of hard-earned taxpayer dollars on the line, we have to determine why we were told this website was ready to go when it wasn’t, and who’s responsible for the decisions that led to these failures.

“I hope next week’s hearing will shed more light on these issues.”  

What was clear after more than four hours of testimony was that the contractors had only partial answers, and only the Obama administration can eventually put the entire picture together to explain the botched rollout.

Better times are coming, said executives from CGI Federal, which built the HealthCare.gov website serving 36 states, and from QSSI, which created a component that helps verify applicants’ incomes and other personal details. They said problems are being fixed daily and expressed optimism that anybody who wants coverage will be able to get it by Jan. 1.

“The system is working, people are enrolling,” said CGI vice president Cheryl Campbell. “But people will be able to enroll at a faster pace.”

Asked for a timetable, she sidestepped, saying: “I don’t like to raise expectations.”

The online insurance markets were meant to be the portal to coverage for people who don’t get health benefits on the job. Middle-class people are to pick from subsidized private insurance plans, while low-income people are steered to Medicaid in states that have agreed to expand that safety-net program. But the administration is now urging consumers to apply via call centers or on paper forms as the website problems are being addressed.

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