Benefits site named ‘ABE’ after Illinois’ favorite son

The Chicago Tribune reports:

“Illinois has settled on name and website for its new online portal that will allow people to apply for state and federal benefits, including an expanded Medicaid program and a commercial health insurance exchange created under the Affordable Care Act.

The Application for Benefits Eligibility, or “ABE,” a nod to Illinois’ favorite son, Abraham Lincoln. Its logo is modeled after a bust of the 16th president.

The system is the first makeover of the state’s integrated eligibility system in more than 30 years. The website, is expected to go live on October 1, when people can begin enrolling for health coverage that will start on Jan. 1, 2014.

ABE also will handle applications to determine eligibility for other aid programs, including SNAP and Cash Assistance.

Revamping the system in time for implementation of the health care overhaul law is a crucial component of the state’s plan to enroll as many as 500,000 new people to its Medicaid rolls in time for 2014. That figure includes 171,000 people who are currently eligible but have not yet enrolled, plus about 342,000 who will gain coverage under an expansion in coverage under the new law.

Those not eligible for Medicaid who are not covered through an employer will be required to get coverage starting next year or pay a penalty.

Many of them – those who fall between 138 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty line – will benefit from buying insurance on the Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace, an online tool operated in a partnership between the state and federal government that could contain up to 400 separate commercial insurance products.

About 957,000 Illinois residents will be eligible for a new federal income tax credit to help offset the cost of buying health insurance, nearly half of whom live in Cook County, according to a new report. State officials expect about 486,000 of them to purchase inside the exchanges.

To receive the point-of-sale credits, consumers must purchase health insurance on the exchange.

Insurers have until the end of April to submit plans for the exchange to state and federal regulators. While the state’s largest insurer, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Illinois, has said it plans to sell coverage on the exchange, the next two largest insurers in the state – UnitedHealthcare and Aetna – have not committed.

All plans in the exchange must provide a baseline level of coverage, dubbed essential health benefits. Mandated items and services fall under 10 categories, including ambulatory care, prescription drugs and laboratory services.

Plans on the exchange also must adhere to stringent financial boundaries set for the actuarial value of each product, or the percentage of the cost of benefits they will pay.

Those requirements limit the creativity of insurers to offer differentiated products, which the government hopes will spur more competition on cost.

The state also is crafting a “robust outreach and education campaign” that will begin at the end of the summer and aim to inform consumers of the health coverage requirement, Julie Hamos, the state’s director of Healthcare and Family Services, said in a memo distributed to agency employees. The goal, she said, is “to create a ‘culture of coverage'” in Illinois.

State and federal outreach efforts face a daunting challenge, according to another recent study.

A survey by found that 90 percent of U.S. consumers don’t know the exchanges open Oct. 1. Twenty-two percent said they thought the exchanges were already open. “