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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Open enrollment for ACA insurance has begun
by Matt Simonette
2017-11-08

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Despite logistical stumbling-blocks introduced by the Trump administration this year, including an especially abbreviated enrollment period, Chicagoans seeking insurance coverage through Affordable Care Act ( ACA ) plans can still obtain assistance in the signup process for 2018 coverage.

Howard Brown Health is among the organizations offering such help. ACA enrollment began Nov. 1 and continues through Dec. 15.

"Because the enrollment period is so short this year, we're definitely putting a lot of effort into streamlining our process," said Rachel Maher, Howard Brown Health's outreach and enrollment coordinator. "We're making our enrollment appointments a little shorter, and trying to encourage consumers to bring in documents and know their usernames and passwords, to make sure that they are prepared when they get there."

Howard Brown Health officials are trying "to enroll about 75 percent of people as we did last year in half the time," Mahar added. She noted that about 400 persons signed up for ACA plans through the organization for 2017 coverage.

An important part of the organization's work this year is dispelling myths that the ACA is gone and that consumers have been left with no options. Though costs and benefits have changed, there is little chance that any legislation passed this year will immediately affect tenets of the ACA, so this year's benefits are likely not in danger from governmental intervention, Mahar said.

"We have to put a lot more effort into communicating with the public," she added. "It's important to get the message out there that help is available."

Enrollment sessions with Howard Brown Health insurance navigators last about 45 minutes to an hour, and if all goes well, applicants can expect to be enrolled by the end of the session. Mahar emphasized the need, however, to at least try to compile any available paperwork, including even rudimentary documents that help estimate income, such as pay-stubs; immigration or citizenship documents if an applicant was not born in the U.S.; names and dosages of medications, as well as names of physicians, to ensure adequate plan coverage; and usernames and passwords if the patient already has a healthcare.gov account.

"Even if they don't think they know [username and passwords], they should try and log in ahead of time—you only have one time to reset that," Mahar said.

Howard Brown Health navigators will also help persons with HIV link to state assistance programs and obtain coverage there if available. Mahar further noted that uninsured transgender persons should be able to find coverage under ACA plans as well.

"The ACA has nondiscrimination policies written into it, so the marketplace aims to cover gender-affirming care, including gender-confirmation surgery and hormone therapy, so we can talk to people about getting coverage for their specific needs," she said.

For more information, visit HowardBrown.org/affordablecare/ or phone 773-388-8683 .


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