Working on a tight timeframe, Illinois is building an 800-person army of temporary workers to help people sign up for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
The "in-person counselor" jobs, located in every corner of the state, range from a $9-an-hour part-time evening job in Clinton County to a $45,000-a-year project coordinator position in Chicago for someone with experience in community organizing and public speaking.
The workers will help consumers apply for coverage, and will answer questions and explain differences between the insurance policies offered on the new online marketplace. They will help consumers figure out if they’re eligible for Medicaid or for new tax credits that will help many people pay for coverage.
Job applications are being collected online and anyone hired will get three days of training about health insurance, enrollment rules and other complicated aspects of the health law. Illinois must act quickly to be ready for Oct. 1, the first day of enrollment for the law’s new insurance opportunities.
Training began at the end of July and, so far, about 120 people have gone through the program, said Mike Claffey, a spokesman for Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.
Each in-person counselor must complete state and federal training and a fingerprint-based background check to become certified by the Illinois Department of Insurance. The training involves one day of online work and two days of in-person education.
Trainers are faculty from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health who “have extensive experience in health care economics, insurance practices, outreach and training, health literacy and system navigation,” Claffey said.
Training sessions are being held across the state, at sites including Chicago, DuPage County, Lake County, Will County, Springfield, Quincy, Champaign, Rockford, Peoria, Belleville and Carbondale. More training sessions will be added as needed, Claffey said, and continuing education will be provided throughout the open enrollment period, which runs through the end of March 2014.
One expert who is observing states’ progress on training outreach workers said Illinois is doing well.
"The in-person counselor program in Illinois is in really good shape," said Chad Shearer, deputy director of the State Health Reform Assistance Network, a project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and housed at Princeton University in New Jersey. "They announced their grantee organizations (in July) and immediately on the heels of that they started training."
Shearer praised the training program. "I’ve seen it and it seems to meet the standards that everybody has been thinking and talking about," he said. The State Health Reform Assistance Network serves as a resource for states, including Illinois, as they implement the health law.
Chief among the challenges for states, Shearer said, is training people who are available for temporary, low-paying jobs to understand complicated concepts about shopping for health insurance and eligibility for new tax credits that will help many Americans pay for coverage. The best approach, he said, is walking trainees through different consumer situations using hypothetical scenarios.
Shearer isn’t worried about the looming deadline.
"You can get a lot of people trained in a short period of time. Training won’t stop on Oct. 1," he said.
In Illinois, 44 community organizations received grants to run in-person counselor programs. In addition, 11 groups were named last week by the federal government to operate Navigator programs in Illinois. Navigators and in-person counselors are essentially the same, but have different funding sources.
The grantee organizations can set their own standards, including educational requirements, for in-person counselors. In Springfield, Family Guidance Centers Inc. is looking for six people with high school diplomas or GEDs who will make $12 to $14.42 hourly.
One of the highest-paying jobs advertised is at the Illinois African American Coalition for Prevention, a Chicago group that’s looking for a person with a master’s degree who will make $45,000 to $52,000 as coordinator of the in-person counselor program.
The job listing says the applicant "should possess experience with canvassing/community organizing, program recruitment and retention, public speaking, as well as event planning, logistics, and marketing/communications."
"One of the things we know is that we need to meet the community members who are uninsured and underinsured at the places they convene. So we’ll be working with existing social and civic networks: black clubs, churches, the alderman’s office — that’s always a great place to network with the clients we’re trying to educate," said Executive Director Malik Nevels, executive director of the group, which is working with the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago. The United Way received $1.3 million for its in-person counselor project, among the largest of the Illinois grants.
Nevels said his group will hold a series of town hall meetings in the Chicago neighborhoods of Auburn Gresham, Chatham, and Greater Grand Crossing. "It’s consistent with our mission in terms of improving health outcomes for African American communities. One of the determinants of health is affordable health insurance," he said.
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