Health Center News

Helping Chicago Access Care

At NACHC we continue to gather stories on the important role Community Health Centers are playing in educating their communities about their health insurance options under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Through grassroots efforts, many of these health centers are often going beyond their walls to reach those who might be eligible for coverage under the new law.

One such provider is Access Community Health Network in Chicago.  ACCESS is the Chicago area’s largest provider of community health care and the number one Hispanic provider in the state. With nearly 40 health centers they serve as a medical home to nearly 200,000 patients each year.

When Illinois decided to expand Medicaid a year before the ACA went into effect with its CountyCare program, ACCESS had little to no community outreach staff to dedicate to enrollment.   To make up for this, they tapped those team members who were already doing specific program outreach out in the field and leveraged their strong relationships with community partners. In the past year, ACCESS has held education and enrollment events at  homeless shelters, food pantries, substance abuse treatment centers and in-patient treatment facilities to enroll eligible patients in both Medicaid programs and available insurance plans on the new Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace, through  Their efforts have been a success.  Patients not only gained access to coverage but a medical home.

ACCESS has since expanded their outreach team through grant funding, hiring In-Person Counselors and Certified Application Counselors. Now, they are able to reach deeper into communities through expanding and developing new relationships at libraries, city colleges, universities and through housing organizations like the Chicago Housing Authority. ACCESS also targets a lot of outreach efforts to key influencers like seniors because they are often the advocates for issues in their community and educate their neighbors.

Admittedly there have been some delays in enrollment for a variety of reasons that include website glitches, but the effort has paid off.  Cristina Sotelino, Vice President of Communications and Community Engagement said, “People come two and three times to get enrolled but once you get them in they are so happy and you realize this why we do what we do. It’s so worth it.”

But the health system’s work doesn’t stop at enrollment.  In many cases they are also finding that once people get their insurance card in the mail they still aren’t quite sure what they can do with it.

“Most of the questions are around medications. Now that they are covered, patients with chronic diseases are able to actually maintain their health,” said Sotelino. “We make sure they know what to do with that card regardless of whether they are ACCESS patients or not.”

One newly enrolled patient is Martha Ortega. Martha is 63 years old and had never had health insurance. A diabetic, she would only visit the doctor when she could afford it. Now she’s enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program and not only are her doctor’s visits paid for, but also her medications.

“It’s much easier for me now. I am very well cared for, and I am happy with what I have and the care I am receiving,” says Ortega. “I urge everyone to sign-up.”