Evanston organizations help ‘confused’ residents understand Affordable Care Act

Sophia Bollag and Jeanne Kuang

Evanston residents still have many questions about a key component of the Affordable Care Act launched Tuesday, according to the city organizations that have begun helping them understand it.

Under the 2010 law, Americans can buy health insurance from online exchanges. Based on their income levels, millions of people also qualify for subsidized plans

A government website lists four groups in Evanston that potential users can turn to for assistance, though the number is likely higher due to various levels of collaboration among city organizations.

“The ACA is a complicated law with lots of moving parts, and a lot of people are a little bit bewildered,” said Avery Hart, a physician at the Evanston-Skokie branch of Erie Family Health Center. “They hear about health exchanges. They hear about Medicaid expansions They hear about many other things about the plans. They’re a little confused.”

The provisions concerning health insurance are an especially baffling part of the law for new consumers, said Michael Wolf, director of the Feinberg School of Medicine’s Health Literacy and Learning Program.

“It literally is a minefield of information and jargon that really needs a lot of assistance to navigate properly,” Wolf said. “We felt like we had to do health insurance 101.”

The program is partnering with Land of Lincoln Health, a co-op health insurance company, to provide easy-to-understand information to consumers. The company began enrolling customers when the online marketplaces opened Tuesday.

Connections for the Homeless, an organization serving the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless, is another group providing information about the ACA to residents.

“The most important part is to communicate that everybody will have the opportunity to apply for health insurance and benefits,” said Antonieta Diaz, who works for Connections for Homeless. “If they didn’t have health insurance in the past, they will have affordable options to choose from.”

Because the law has many exemptions, Diaz said some people do not understand which parts of the law apply to them. They are unsure whether they will be required to buy health care and whether they will be taxed if they do not, she said.

People who already have insurance will not be required to purchase it through the marketplaces, but those who are uninsured may be taxed if they have a high enough yearly income. For most people, the deadline to apply for insurance on the marketplaces is March 31.

As part of its efforts to inform residents about the ACA, the Evanston Public Library ordered several hundred brochures with information on the law from Consumer Reports. Lesley Williams, a reference librarian at EPL, said most people come to the library seeking general information because they are not sure what specific questions to ask.

“At this point, people are still kind of confused,” Williams said. “The brochures are going fast, though. We’ve almost run out.”

Diaz said Connections for the Homeless has received “not a lot” of requests for information about the ACA.

“I think people are just learning where to go,” Diaz said. “We have gotten calls but not an overwhelming number of people trying to register.”

Connections, EPL and other organizations in Evanston have scheduled community events over the next few weeks aimed at educating residents about the law. Hart spoke Tuesday at an informational conference for religious leaders at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Interfaith Action of Evanston, a faith-based nonprofit, will host “Navigating ObamaCare: Learn How the Affordable Care Act Will Affect You and Your Neighbors” on Oct. 14 at Northminster Presbyterian Church, 2515 Central Park Ave., to explain details of the ACA to the public.

“We just really want people to get the information they need,” Williams said.

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