CENTRAL ILLINOIS, Ill. (WMBD) — The Affordable Care Act open enrollment period has started and lawmakers are urging Illinoisans to get coverage.

Friday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D- IL) led a forum about the ACA. He opened the forum by saying everyone should have access to health insurance in 2021, especially because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Kate Johnson and her husband are dairy farmers in Illinois. Together, they are raising four kids.

Johnson said after having her first child, she stopped working at her previous job, lost employer benefits, and got a taste of depending on health insurance in the private market with no protections.

“I was charged a lot more for health insurance than my husband,” Johnson said. “My second pregnancy, I was initially told I would be paying full cost because I had not been paying premiums long enough.”

Johnson switched to a plan provided by the Affordable Care Act.

“…I received a phone call saying no, in fact, my insurance now required to cover this pregnancy and all the prenatal care,” she said. “I remember being very emotional with the insurance [representative] on the phone I was so relieved.”

Although Durbin believes everyone needs health insurance, he is unsure of the future of accessible coverage.

“Over the past 10 years, we’ve had a political battle over the ACA. There has been no effort constructively to improve it — rather, a life-or-death struggle on whether it’d survive,” Durbin said.

For now, health insurance professionals still encourage residents to apply, adding most Illinoisans can get coverage for less than $75 a month.

Illinois Department of Insurance Director Rob Muriel said there are 179 healthcare plans offered by eight carriers.

Adani Sanchez, a client services coordinator with the Champaign County Health Care Consumers, said even if you already have coverage, it does not hurt to look at available plans.

“We encourage people to check again, because even if your situation hasn’t changed because the financial assistance is based on the federal poverty level that goes up every single year, so even if nothing has changed, your financial assistance might be increased a little bit,” Sanchez said.

Johnson said she felt powerless before seeking out a plan under the ACA. Now, she said she feels empowered.

The deadline to apply for a plan is Tuesday, Dec. 15.

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