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Updated: January 20, 2014 8:06AM

It was hardly the response I expected to an offer of free help in registering for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

After months of computer foul-ups, I expected to see hundreds of people at a Southland information and enrollment event in Country Club Hills. Instead, at the announced 6 p.m. starting time, I counted five people seeking help.

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-2nd, had arranged the session at D.A.’s Deli and Dining, 18348 Pulaski Road on Tuesday night.

As the start of the program was delayed to await stragglers, those seeking assistance were outnumbered by representatives from nonprofit groups trained and paid to register people for health insurance or those whose assignment is to “beat the bushes” and get people out to such meetings.

Sakina Tayebali, an organizer for Enroll America, was among the latter group.

“We make phone calls to people who might be interested in registering for health insurance, literally go door-to-door knocking on doors to get people out to registration sessions and provide educational information on the Affordable Care Act,” Tayebali said.

When I asked if her organization received federal money for such work, she forcefully responded in the negative, saying, “We’re a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and obtain support from a number of different places but not the government.”

According to Enroll America’s website, its mission is to “maximize the number of uninsured Americans who enroll in health coverage made available by the Affordable Care Act.

“Enroll America is a collaborative organization, working with partners that span the gamut of health coverage stakeholders — health insurers, hospitals, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, employers, consumer groups, faith-based organizations, civic organizations and philanthropies — to engage many different voices in support of an easy, accessible and widely available enrollment process.”

It seemed to me that Tayebali was primarily there Tuesday to hammer home the notion that the Affordable Care Act was created to provide low-cost health insurance to people that would cover ER visits, doctor’s visits, hospital stays, maternity care and remedy the problems that people with pre-existing conditions used to have in buying insurance.

Despite starting about 15 minutes late, she insisted on making a presentation that she mumbled through, although the same points were emphasized in large letters on a screen at the front of the room.

It was a mercifully short presentation but still struck me as gratuitous.

On either side of the screen were tables staffed by trained “navigators” from local organizations equipped with laptop computers.

Navigators from Aunt Martha’s in Olympia Fields manned the tables on the right, while navigators from Southland Health Care Forum in Harvey and Chicago Heights had the tables on the left.

The “navigators,” I was told, were given extensive training by both the federal and Illinois governments before they were certified to help people register for medical insurance.

Carmilla Malone, a Hazel Crest Park District Board member and self-employed day care operator, came to the session seeking assistance navigating the health insurance website.

“I tried it when it first came out and was stuck,” Malone told me. “When I got unstuck, I tried it again. I was afraid to ask any questions because I wasn’t even sure I was on the right website. So I’m here tonight hoping to get some help and sign up for health insurance. I don’t have any health insurance right now.”

Malone said she learned about the registration session from her 23-year-old daughter, Brittany Malone, who learned about it from a friend.

Brittany, who showed up a few minutes after her mother to register herself, said her friend learned about the registration clinic from someone who worked in Kelly’s office.

At 6:40 p.m., Carmilla Malone finally got to sit down at a table across from Gia Davis, a navigator for Southland Health Care Forum.

All the people looking for assistance were asked to bring a birth certificate, green card, U.S. passport or citizenship certificate, Social Security card, paycheck stub, a W-2 form or federal income tax forms and proof of residence (driver’s license, state ID or utility bill).

Malone had some of the documentation, but not all of it.

“It makes it a little more difficult, takes a little longer, if we don’t have all of the documentation, but we usually can get people through the process anyway,” Davis said. “Sometimes, they have to come back to complete the process. But at least we can get them started.”

I kept a safe distance to avoid overhearing any personal information being exchanged, but the interaction seemed to go smoothly. At 7:30 p.m., 50 minutes later, Davis said “you are now registered” in a loud voice, and she and Malone exchanged a high-five.

A few seconds later, a navigator sitting nearby got a cellphone call, and Malone shouted, “was that Barack Obama?,” inspiring a great deal of laughter.

Malone told me she was quite pleased with the result and discovered that she would have to “pay nothing” for her health insurance.

A spokeswoman for Kelly emailed that 12 participants eventually showed up for the session and seven successfully registered.

“It is our understanding that, while low, the attendance at our event was in line with the attendance of other recent ACA events,” the spokeswoman stated.

I was told the same thing by an Illinois district coordinator for the health insurance program, who couldn’t tell me how many people had registered statewide.

Other registration events are being scheduled, and you can find out about them at the Get Covered Illinois website by typing in your ZIP code.

Given the millions of uninsured Americans, there ought to be people lining up for free or discounted medical coverage.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

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