Cook County Commissioners, Coalition Push for Solution to 180,000 Uninsured in County

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Image by MetroCreative Graphics.

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s the third Open Enrollment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) begins, the Healthy Communities Cook County (HC3) Coalition met with Cook County Commissioners Jesús “Chuy” García, Bridget Gainer, Richard Boykin, Luis Arroyo Jr., and John Fritchey to stand with uninsurable Cook County residents who lack health access and to encourage eligible uninsured Cook County residents to enroll in the ACA. Today, HC3’s “Healthy Families, Healthy Communities” event brought together grassroots organizations, policy groups and labor unions from across Cook County to celebrate newly insured families and to explore the possibilities of local policy solutions for the uninsurable in Cook County.

“Regardless of language or immigration status, we all get sick, we all have medical emergencies at some point in our lives and we all need access to quality healthcare,” said Garcia. “As the third open enrollment begins, we encourage the over 250,000 individuals eligible for ACA to sign up and take advantage of this opportunity. ACA has expanded access to healthcare for many but, unfortunately, some Cook County residents are still left out. We must find a local solution to address this coverage gap and ensure that Cook County residents don’t have to rely on emergency services.”

Approximately 253,341 individuals in Cook County remain uninsured and eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In addition, another 180,000 are uninsurable. The purpose of the ACA is to ensure populations who historically have limited access to affordable healthcare are able to access the services they rely on before and after they become sick or injured. A healthier Cook County population translates directly into a stronger and more productive economy, and currently many of the low-income and disadvantaged people the ACA was created to serve remain uninsured.

“I am a mother, a grandmother and I have worked at McDonald’s for 17 years,” said Lucina Gutierrez, an active leader with the Fight for 15. “The Affordable Care Act is a good step forward for many families but in Cook County, thousands of immigrant and low-wage families do not have access to this program.”

The HC3 coalition, through surveys of residents throughout Cook County, has identified multiple barriers that prevent many individuals from applying or seeking out health coverage options. Many of the eligible and uninsured are immigrants who have indicated that high cost, lack of information, limited language access and immigration status have prevented them from engaging with the healthcare system. In Chicago and Cook County, the areas with the highest numbers of non-English speakers are the same areas with the lowest number of unenrolled ACA eligible individuals.

“Healthy Communities Cook County (HC3) has a mission to continually encourage all eligible Cook County residents to apply for the ACA, and we will work with our county commissioners to find a local health access policy solution for the 180,000 uninsurable county residents,” said Health Policy Director Luvia Quinones, of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant & Refugee Rights.

HC3’s public event is a timely opportunity to inform eligible individuals about the preventative and emergency health coverage options available to them, and to highlight the still uninsurable population who are excluded from the ACA due to barriers like cost and immigration status.

“Cab drivers are treated as independent contractors so we have to buy individual health insurance plans,” said Nnamdi Uwazie, a member with AFSCME. “But as cab drivers, we have difficulty making even minimum wage due to unfair regulation. That makes it very difficult to afford health insurance for ourselves and our families.”

The HC3 coalition firmly believes that by working collaboratively across sectors and demographics, Cook County can effectively utilize local networks for outreach and education, and target underserved and eligible populations who are in need of primary, preventive and basic health care services. By working together, Cook County can create feasible healthcare solutions for the uninsurable that will ultimately make entire communities stronger.
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