PILSEN — The Affordable Care Act had only launched hours earlier, but at Stroger Hospital — one of the nation's best-known hospitals for the uninsured — Terry Barnes was more than ready for it to take effect Tuesday.
Barnes, 54, of Englewood, said he no longer wanted to remain uninsured because of his spotty temp work.
By Tuesday morning, he already had submitted his application to a new online website detailing the official health marketplace made available under so-called Obamacare. Officials are hoping to get 300,000 uninsured residents covered by the beginning of next year.
"Luckily, I'm a healthy man, but God forbid something happen to me and I'm not insured," Barnes said. "It's great to make everyone be insured, especially in a community like my own."
But others at the Near West Side hospital expressed concerns about being able to afford the insurance available on the exchanges listed on the site.
"I'll give it a shot, because I have to," said Eric Wiggins, a 46-year-old from Humboldt Park. "A lot of people can't afford insurance. I'm one of them."
Wiggins said he hadn't researched how to apply for insurance or how much it would cost under the new law.
Plenty of others across the state, however, already had started the process.
As of 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, nearly 70,000 visitors had come to the state's website, and 1,100 applications for benefits had been received, state officials said.
The site offers tons of information, but also connects the uninsured with people officially trained to offer one-on-one assistance in navigating the new law.
There are dozens of health clinics, as well as social, ethnic and educational organizations that offer help, most of which are concentrated on the city's West and South sides.
"We're going to teach people how to choose what option to pick," said Yuvania Maldonado, who will do training as part of El Hogar Del Nino, a Pilsen-based nonprofit. "We can't choose for them, but we can help them pick based on their needs."
The organization plans to leaflet the neighborhood, letting residents know that it's available to help people sort through their options, Maldonado said.
Maldonado said she expects some people will learn that they qualify for existing programs such as Medicaid.
State officials said the website was working relatively well, but there were a handful of early and minor glitches. Those glitches were reported and fixed by early afternoon, they said.
The state had received 350 calls to a help desk by the afternoon.