DeKALB – Randall Foster learned Wednesday he could be the perfect candidate for health insurance coverage under Medicaid.
Foster, 37, has been unemployed since 2005 and became homeless when a friend of his mother he cared for and lived with died in May. Since then, he's been living with his friends in DeKalb and Sycamore. He's also been living with an estimated $2,000 debt for surgery he had done to treat his hernia earlier this year.
Foster has been living without health insurance, but during a dinner session at DeKalb-based Feed'em Soup, DeKalb County Health Department officials introduced people such as Foster to the health insurance options they have through the expanded Medicaid program and the Health Insurance Marketplace under the Affordable Care Act.
Foster signed up for an appointment to learn more about his options and remains hopeful he can secure health insurance soon.
"If it works, it would be great," he said. "… it might help people be able to work if they're healthy."
County health department officials have hosted about 15 events in the county to help people understand changes to health care and their health coverage options under the Affordable Care Act. The act, which aims to make health care more affordable and accessible, was signed into law in 2010 with provisions being phased in through 2020.
Next year, people will be required to have health insurance or pay a fee that is either one percent of their annual household income or $95, whichever is greater. The open enrollment period for receiving coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace, also known as the Exchange, was extended to March 31 because of technical issues with the Exchange's website.
County health department officials were given a $92,000 grant from the state to train their staff on the Exchange and help people enroll. The department's Enroll DeKalb County staff members have provided in-person counseling to more than 100 people thus far, Jane Lux, county public health administrator, wrote in an email. The staff has helped about 20 people apply for enrollment.
Enroll DeKalb County staff members are not just expecting people to come to them for guidance, they are also reaching out to them at venues such as Feed'em Soup. The nonprofit community restaurant was a place the staff wanted to reach because many of the people there would be eligible for Medicaid and other kinds of health insurance coverage, said Cindy Graves, director of the health and prevention division for the county health department.
"The biggest thing I'm amazed with is that they don't even know what their options are or that they have options," she said about many of the people she talked with.
While DeKalb resident El Lowery is the only one in his family without health insurance, he said he doesn't feel the need for it. His wife and children receive care through Medicaid. He said he is wary of the Affordable Care Act because of criticism from family members, but the Enroll DeKalb County staff he spoke with made it sound different.
"They made it sound like if you don't have [health insurance], then it's the program where if something goes wrong you'll definitely get what you need and by applying you definitely get covered," he said.
To learn more about the Affordable Care Act or Enroll DeKalb County, visit enroll.dekalbcounty.org or call 815-748-2404.