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Low-cost health care is here, but no one seems to know it

Monday, August 15, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times
by LORI RACKL Health Reporter

Despite numbness in her foot and a lump growing on her neck, Maryann Holland, 50, didn't go to the doctor.

Holland, like one in seven Illinois residents, had no health insurance. She hadn't been to a doctor in nearly two decades.

"It just cost too much money," said the Melrose Park waitress.

Holland finally found a doctor she could afford earlier this year thanks to Access to Care, a low-cost medical program for the uninsured.

Access to Care recently expanded beyond the suburbs to cover low-income residents on the Northwest Side of Chicago. But the program is struggling to catch on in the city -- and not because of lack of need for affordable health care, said Access to Care spokeswoman Katie Barnickel.

"They just don't know about us," Barnickel said. "We have a 16-year track record in the suburbs and no track record in the city. It's hard to get the word out."

$50 for family to enroll

The Cook County Board this year put up the money to enroll 1,100 people in this underserved part of Chicago, but only 100 or so have taken advantage of the offer. About 14,200 suburbanites get low-cost health care through Access to Care.

Here's how the program works: Eligible, low-income residents pay a small annual enrollment fee that ranges from $20 for a single adult to $50 for a family of three or more. Patients can tap in to a network of nearly 700 participating doctors for primary health care, which costs $5 a visit.

There's a nominal charge for X-rays and lab tests, and prescription drugs can be had for $10 to $30. Hospitalization and specialty care from a cardiologist or orthopedist, for example, aren't covered by the program.

The goal of Access to Care is to provide basic health care for people who find themselves in the ever-widening gap between eligibility for public health programs and the ability to afford private insurance.

'We're here'

"If I'd known about this earlier, I would've gone to the doctor a lot sooner," said Holland, who had the pre-cancerous lump in her neck removed over the summer.

Her new doctor also put her on asthma medication and diagnosed the arthritis in her knee. And the numbness in her foot has gone away.

"I feel a lot better," she said.

Barnickel is convinced plenty of people in Chicago could benefit from Access to Care just as Holland did.

"We know they're out there," she said. "Now how do we make them know we're here?"


For eligibility, you must:

*Live in suburban Cook County or the Northwest Side of Chicago, west of Pulaski Road and north of North Avenue.

*Have an income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. That translates into $38,700 for a family of four and $19,000 for a single adult, for example.

*Have no health insurance and be ineligible for Medicaid or Medicare.

You can apply for enrollment in person or via mail.

Call Access to Care at (708) 531-0680.

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