Members of Healthy Communities Cook County during the press conference held earlier this month announcing the county's new direct access program. | Facebook

According to the Cook County Board, there are an estimated 900,000 people in Illinois, most of whom live in Cook County, who are uninsured because they’re immigrants, can’t afford private plans or haven’t enrolled in a public health plan.

At a board meeting last week, county commissioners approved an ordinance that would launch a program designed to provide those residents who have fallen through the cracks with regular heath care.

Under the new ordinance, Cook County residents whose incomes are up to twice the federal poverty level, which is $48,600 for a four-person household, will receive “a membership card, member handbook and an assigned ‘medical home,’ and primary care physician at one of [Cook County Health & Hospitals System’s] community health centers where they can receive consistent primary and specialty care at CCHHS facility,” according to a recent statement by the county board.

“Health care is a human right,” said CCHHS CEO Dr. Jay Shannon. “A person should be able to receive the necessary proactive medical care they need to live a healthy life and not have to only rely on emergency care when they are acutely ill.”

The county’s new initiative, often referred to as a direct access program, is scheduled to start accepting eligible patients by early 2017. Individuals who are currently members of the county’s CareLink program, which discounts medical care for eligible patients who aren’t insured or can’t afford private insurance deductibles, will be allowed to transition into the new program.

“We cannot have a healthy economy or a healthy city without a healthy workforce,” noted Commissioner Bridget Gainer (10th), who along with Commissioners Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (7th) and Robert Steele (2nd), along with members of Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s Cook County Health Care Task Force, conceived the idea for the direct access program.

“This means having strong primary and preventive care,” Gainer said, “not just an emergency room.”