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What health reform means for the people of Illinois

A blog by IllinoisHealthMatters.org

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Chicago needs a plan to sign up its uninsured; here's what to do

Health care coverage has an impact on the economic well-being of lower- and moderate-income people; therefore enrolling the uninsured should be considered a key economic strategy for Chicago and all of Illinois. Unfortunately, this isn't the case.

Sixty-three percent of Illinois' working population eligible for a private path to health coverage under the Affordable Care Act is still uninsured, with large swaths residing in Chicago (see a breakdown of the numbers across Illinois here).

Given those statistics, Mayor Rahm Emanuel needs all hands on deck—from business leaders to health insurance brokers, from community institutions like public libraries to religious leaders—to encourage people to sign up.

Open enrollment for 2016 health insurance coverage starts Nov. 1, so the city is in serious need of a plan. We propose a Commission for Healthy Chicago, similar to the mayor's effort on violence prevention, comprising city staff and community, business, faith and health care leaders to build a cross-sector strategy for outreach and enrollment. Emanuel can improve the economic security of working-poor Chicagoans simply by putting the clout of his office behind such a strategy.

Chicago shouldn't expect the state to lead. In the midst of the state's fiscal disarray, Get Covered Illinois has lost most of its staff and has stated it will rely more heavily on “partners” such as providers, brokers and nonprofits for enrollment support. GCI's limited capacity can't get the job done; nor should the city and state expect nonprofits and health care providers to fill the gap in funding or leadership.

The Task Ahead

With only 37 percent of the estimated 942,000 marketplace-eligible residents having enrolled, Illinois ranks 20th out of the 37 states that operate their marketplaces using the federal HealthCare.gov website.  

Here's another way to look at it: Two years into ACA's health insurance efforts, almost two-thirds of Illinois' marketplace population—the lower- to moderate-income people for whom the ACA was created—remain uninsured. Almost half of them are eligible for a tax credit or subsidy to make their plan more affordable.

Overall, about 73 percent of the nearly 600,000 people who are eligible but still uninsured live and work in the Chicago metro area. Within these areas there are significant proportions of the population who do not speak English as their primary language. In nearly half the metro area, at least one-third of the population speaks Spanish or another non-English language. In several of these areas, primarily in Chicago and suburban Cook County, more than 50 percent do not speak English as their first language. Notably, the areas with the highest proportion of non-English speakers are the same areas with the lowest share of eligible population enrolled.

 Other states have successfully enrolled low- to moderate-income people in the ACA health insurance marketplace. They have done this through:
• Use of data to target communities with large, underserved marketplace-eligible populations.
• Exploiting numerous local avenues to provide extensive education and outreach, including through events and local media, to directly connect the uninsured with help to enroll in coverage.
• Meaningful collaboration with brokers and the small-business community.

A healthy Chicago economy goes hand in hand with a healthy population that is ready to learn, work and is not burdened by health care costs. Let's not let Chicago and Illinois fall behind when it comes to covering working families.

This article originally appeared in Crain's Chicago Business.

Barbara Otto
Health & Disability Advocates