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posted: 10/1/2013 7:01 PM

Suburban counselors get few inquiries on first day of health reform act

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Suburban in-person counselors didn't have many visitors Tuesday, the first day to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Instead, most people sought information from state and federal call centers or websites, healthcare.gov and getcoveredillinois.gov. Some technical glitches and wait times were reported on the federal level because of the high demand.

Things went smoother at Get Covered Illinois, which as of Tuesday afternoon had 65,000 hits on its website and more than 350 phone calls to its help desk. State officials said people are slowly educating themselves about the plans rather than signing up immediately, which is what they want.

"We think traffic is going to ramp up over time," said Mike Claffey, deputy director of the Illinois Office of Communication and Information. "This is the first day. People should take their time and not have to rush to make a decision."

Those without health insurance, or who want to switch from a private to a less expensive federal plan, still have six months to enroll. Coverage will begin Jan. 1 for those who enroll before Dec. 15.

Not a single person inquired about the health insurance plans Tuesday, either in person or on the phone, at Little City Foundation in Palatine, a place listed for in-person assistance on getcoveredillinois.gov. Had they received any inquiries, they would have referred them to the state, since their in-person counselor won't be in place until next month as part of a new partnership with Aunt Martha's Youth Service Center.

Even though the state has trained 750 people to be in-person counselors, it's still in the process of training between 300 and 500 more, Claffey said.

At ACCESS at Northwest Community in Arlington Heights, most of the activity Tuesday involved handing out applications for CountyCare, Cook County's new Medicaid program for uninsured low-income residents.

Get Covered Illinois invited people to enter their ZIP codes to find local, in-person help. However, several local ZIP codes -- including some in St. Charles, Naperville, Lombard and Libertyville -- said there were zero "assisters" available.

Some of the places listed -- often hospital main numbers and health clinics -- had people answering the phone who weren't aware of the service.

"We understand with any new program there will be glitches and bumps along the way," Gov. Pat Quinn said at a news conference in Chicago Tuesday. "That's what happens with any endeavor."

Still, Quinn called it a "historic" day that will change the lives of hundreds of thousands of Illinois residents by helping them get health insurance.

An estimated 1.8 million people in Illinois don't have coverage; officials hope at least 300,000 of them will enroll through the marketplace by March 31.

Presentations on the Affordable Care Act, are scheduled at the Schaumburg Township District Library, 130 S. Roselle Road, in Schaumburg, from 10:30 a.m. to noon Nov. 26, and from 7-8:30 p.m. Dec. 17.

The same program will be presented in Spanish Dec. 9 at the Schaumburg library's Hanover Park branch, 1266 Irving Park Road. For more details and to register, call (847) 923-3347.

-- Daily Herald wire reports contributed to this story

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