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With 40 days to the finish line, race is on to boost ACA enrollment

Medill Report 

By: Sarah Gilgore

Affordable Care Act enrollment in Illinois has increased since the end of December – but the race isn’t over yet.

State residents now make up 88,602 of the nearly 3.3 million Americans who have purchased plans, and 25 percent of enrolled Illinoisans are 18- to 34-year-olds, according to the latest report from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Before the new year, 61,111 enrollees were from Illinois, 23 percent of whom represented the young adult demographic.

“I don’t think this is a big surprise,” said Eve Rips, Midwest director for the Young Invincibles organization. “We were expecting it to look on-trend with the Massachusetts patterns, and that is exactly what we’re seeing. We’re really pleased that the numbers went up in January, and we expect them to continue to surge.”

HHS figures also show that U.S. young-adult enrollment grew by 65 percent in January, whereas the other age groups collectively increased by 55 percent.

“I do get the sense that it will increase leading up to the deadline,” said David Elin, state director for Enroll America. “All the numbers are growing, which is exciting and great to see.”

Forty days remain in the open enrollment period. The state comprises 203,922 people who are eligible to buy plans through the marketplace, but only 88,602 of these individuals have selected plans, according to the HHS report.

“It’s just often human nature to wait until the last minute,” Elin said. “We know from other rollouts that people do wait until the deadline, and the deadline drives people to get things done.”

Dominique Williams, of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation in Chicago, also said procrastination might plague young people “when it comes to making decisions like enrolling in coverage.”

“So there’s hope that we’ll see increased enrollment numbers for this demographic nearer to the deadline,” Williams said. “I personally think there’s still a lot of work to do to convince this demographic that this is something they should care about and pay for, particularly if they have limited means.”

LISC, which aims to revitalize neighborhoods by connecting organizations and community leaders with resources, received a state grant to implement ACA registration and outreach.

“Residents in these communities are considered among the most difficult to reach,” Williams said.

LISC insurance counselors, called navigators, have made contact with thousands of residents, according to Williams, who oversees LISC Chicago’s health-related initiatives.

However, the work is not finished, and some residents need “very intensive support to get across the finish line of enrollment,” Williams said. Literacy barriers, difficulty obtaining required documentation, unreliable contact information, distrust of institutions, government skepticism and immigration obstacles are among the challenges.

“I foresee progress on all of these fronts and our navigators are incredibly optimistic,” Williams said. “But it will take time, and this work will extend far beyond the term of this grant.”

On National Youth Enrollment Day Saturday, nonprofit groups and grassroots organizations throughout the country also worked to boost registration, directing much of their efforts toward young people. Illinois was no exception.

Enroll America’s Get Covered America campaign held close to 10 enrollment events throughout the state, two focused on young adults, and received volunteer support from high school students and community members.

“We are seeing people coming, sitting down with navigators, having one-on-one conversations,” Elin said. “Many of them are walking away covered, and others are walking away having had an opportunity to pick a plan, so it’s really a great opportunity for folks to learn about their options.”

Young Invincibles ran two events in Chicago of its 100 events nationwide. One event was geared toward educating and enrolling young, creative adults “who might not typically get health care through their jobs,” Rips said. The other focused on informing homeless and low-income adults about their options under the ACA, in partnership with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Maintenance on part of was scheduled for Saturday during the countrywide event, which, according to the Associated Press, would result in federal site’s partial inability to function, as it would not be able to verify and process people’s personal information.

According to Elin, maintenance did not have a negative impact on the Enroll America events, and their navigators “had some systems in place to make sure that they were still able to get people moving along.”

As the March 31 deadline moves closer, the statewide push to educate the uninsured continues.

“Early on, we just wanted to make sure we were increasing the basic knowledge across the board about access to insurance,” Rips said. “As we approach the deadline, we really need people to sign on the dotted line and actually commit to getting themselves the plan.”

Health insurance coverage will begin April 1 for people who enroll by March 15.