WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Experts Answering Obamacare Questions

Nov 16, 2013

Specially-trained navigators for the Affordable Care Act are preaching patience as the federal government corrects problems with the healthcare website.

“The insurance coverage doesn’t kick until January First so even if you got enrolled today, you’re not going to be covered until January First,” said Kevin Wiehardt of the Western Illinois Regional Council.

Wiehardt said he receives questions about the ACA via e-mail or the phone every day. He understands why people are frustrated but pointed out the goal of Obamacare is to help people.

“Most people, whether they like this system or not, understand and know that something had to be done with our healthcare system in this country,” said Wiehardt. “I believe over time it can improve.”

Navigators provide information about the ACA free of charge. However, they cannot tell someone which of the plans – bronze, silver, gold, or platinum – to sign up for. Consumers will need to do a bit of homework and make that decision themselves.

Navigators in Illinois received two days of classroom training from the state plus another 20 hours of on-line training from the federal government. The training not only helps them answer questions, but it helps them dispel myths and misinformation about the healthcare program.

“I know there are a lot of misconceptions about undocumented people here in the United States getting free healthcare through this, which I learned is absolutely not true,” said Keith Keller of the McDonough County Health Department.  

“They’re only receiving the same coverage that they receive now, which is emergency room care for life or death situations. They aren’t eligible for the Affordable Care Act.”

Keller is one of a handful of people at the health department trained in Obamacare. Lynnette Cale, Public Health Administrator in McDonough County, said county health departments in just about every Illinois county have at least one trained navigator or in-person counselor.

Cale said she frequently hears complaints about how much it will cost to be insured. But she considers health insurance to be a matter of taking responsibility.

“You can pay pieces now, or you can not have it and if something catastrophic happens, you are left with hundreds of thousands of dollars (in bills) and potentially bankruptcy,” Cale said.

She also said Obamacare mandates insurance companies pay for preventative care, such as mammograms. She said preventative care can catch a problem before it becomes difficult to treat, which helps people stay healthier and ultimately saves them money.

Obamacare is not the first time a major government program in America has been plagued by problems in its early days. 

Reuters reported it took a while to work out the kinks for Social Security in the mid-1930s and Medicare in the mid-1960s, and now those are two of the most popular government programs.