Your Medicaid Questions Answered

If you are curious about health insurance and thinking about signing up for Medicaid, you might have some questions about how it all works. Here we will discuss some common questions and connect you to information to help you learn more!

What does health insurance do?

Health insurance helps people pay for medical care like doctor visits, medicine, and medical treatments. People who earn over a certain amount of money pay for their health insurance by paying a monthly bill (called a premium) to a private insurance plan, and in return, the health insurance company shares some of the cost.

What is Medicaid?

Not everyone has enough money to cover their medical bills. Many people have medical problems or family situations that make paying for medical costs difficult or too expensive. To provide Americans with the health care we all deserve, the United States has the Medicaid program, which provides free or low-cost health coverage to millions of Americans, including some low-income people, families and children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

Who can participate in Medicaid?

All over the United States, Medicaid is available to people who are over 65 years old, are blind, disabled, or pregnant, and to low-income adults. The exact income limits to define what low-income adults can use Medicaid vary from state to state.

In Illinois, the income limits for participation in Medicaid depend on your family size and if you have children. According to, to qualify for Medicaid in Illinois you need to meet the following criteria 1:

  • For a single person, the maximum income is $17,237 per year.
  • For a household of 2, the maximum income is $23,336 per year.
  • For a household of 3, the maximum income is $29,436 per year.
  • For a household of 4, the maximum income is $35,535 per year.

To learn more about the requirements to qualify for Medicaid in Illinois visit

What medical services can I get through Medicaid?

With Medicaid, you will have a primary care provider, who is the main doctor who takes care of you for check-ups. You will have access to preventive care like screenings or testing for conditions so you can avoid getting serious illnesses in the future. Medicaid also pays for hospital stays if you need surgery, mental health services, medications, or medical supplies like asthma inhalers.

You will also have a care coordinator, a representative from your health plan who will help you keep track of your health care. This person will also learn about your home environment, family life, and other needs to make sure that great health is within reach.

How will Medicaid improve my health?

Having a doctor to see when you are sick is the main benefit of signing up for Medicaid – plus easier access to medicines you may need, counseling services for mental health needs, and health care in an emergency. What you may not realize is that going to the doctor for regular visits before you get sick can prevent you from having a future emergency, injury, or serious illness! Checking in with a doctor about your health will help you keep track of your health before it becomes a problem.

How do I sign up for Medicaid?

In Illinois, Medicaid is a part of the State of Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS). You can enroll for Medicaid online at, or on the phone at (877) 912-8880. Once you are signed up for Medicaid, it is very important to stay covered! Each year, HFS must check to make sure you can still get Medicaid benefits through a process called Redetermination. When you receive any letters about Redetermination, make sure you follow the instructions, because otherwise you can lose your insurance and you will have to apply again.

For more information about Medicaid and eligibility requirements visit:


What you need to know about the Coronavirus

For updates on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) visit:

For a list of available testing sites, please visit:


For a list of additional COVID-19 resources, see below.


How to Make Your own Face Covering

Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams, shares ways to create your own face covering in a few easy steps.

The Facts

“The Coronavirus”, as seen on the news lately, is a new type of virus in the group of lung illnesses known as coronaviruses. This virus spreads between people in close contact (within 6 feet of one another), through coughing and sneezing, or possibly through touching infected surfaces or objects. People with the coronavirus can have a range of mild to severe cases, with the worst cases occurring in the elderly or those with weakened immune systems. There is still much that we don’t know about the spread and severity of the virus, but at this time medical authorities are not issuing extreme caution.


If you experience symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath, and you have been in high-risk areas in the past two weeks, contact your doctor’s office.

The Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) has updated its Risk Assessment to include travelers returning from affected international locations1 where community spread is occurring and are also at elevated risk of exposure.

If You Are at Higher Risk

Who is at higher risk?

Early information out of China, where COVID-19 first started, shows that some people are at higher risk of getting very sick from this illness. This includes:

  • Older adults
  • People who have serious chronic medical conditions like:
    • Heart disease
    • Diabetes
    • Lung disease

If you are at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19 because of your age or because you have a serious long-term health problem, it is extra important for you to take action to reduce your risk of getting sick with the disease.

  • Stock up on supplies.
  • Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others.
  • When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.
  • Avoid crowds as much as possible.
  • Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel.
  • During a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible to further reduce your risk of being exposed.
  • Contact your healthcare provider to ask about obtaining early prescription refills to have on hand in case there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in your community and you need to stay home for a prolonged period of time.
  • Contact your pharmacy to ask if they will deliver your medications to your home. If your pharmacy does not deliver, you can locate a pharmacy near you to set up your home delivery. Please visit, type in your zip code, and “Rx5468” (case-specific) in the group number.
  • Be sure you have over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies (tissues, etc.) to treat fever and other symptoms. Most people will be able to recover from COVID-19 at home.
  • Have enough household items and groceries on hand so that you will be prepared to stay at home for a period of time.

The Best Defense: Hand Washing

One of the simplest and best ways to protect yourself from infections is to practice proper hand hygiene! Handwashing can prevent illnesses including respiratory infection, diarrheal disease, and the flu.

  • Always wash your hands before preparing and eating food, caring for someone who is sick, and treating cuts or wounds.
  • Wash up after using the toilet, changing a diaper, blowing your nose or sneezing, and handling animals, animal waste, or animal feed.
  • Wet your hands and lather with soap for at least 20 seconds. Rinse off and use a clean towel or air dry.


Additional COVID-19 Information


For more information about the COVID-19, please visit:
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Educate Yourself: the Fact and Fiction of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are serious illnesses that affect both mental and physical health. These conditions take many forms, but what different eating disorders have in common is that the person has a non-typical relationship with food or with their body.

Most of us have heard of anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating, but we don’t talk about them much. By having a more open and judgment-free conversation, we can create a safer place for those who are struggling with eating disorders.

To start, we can address some common misunderstandings that add to ongoing shame around eating disorders. Here’s what the experts have to say about some of the things people often get wrong.

#1: Eating disorders are just about looks.

Because eating disorders affect the way you look, people who suffer from them are often thought of as shallow and only focused on their looks. Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, says:

“There is a dangerous and persistent misconception that eating disorders are vanity issues… [But] These aren’t just disorders you see on the surface. Media coverage tends to focus on physical and medical complications, which are realities. But…Treatment requires a comprehensive approach to address the complex issues that are driving these damaging behaviors and thought patterns.”[1]

There is more than meets the eye with eating disorders. In fact, it is common that people with eating disorders are also suffering from another mental health condition[2], such as anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or body dysmorphia (which causes someone to have an unrealistic view of their own looks).

#2: Eating disorders only affect [women, thin people, rich people, etc…]

When we think of illnesses like anorexia or bulimia, the image of a skinny female model may come to mind. Tammy Beasly, VP of Clinical Nutrition Services at Alsana, says:

“The assumption? Eating disorders only affect thin, adolescent Caucasian girls…The reality is eating disorders cannot be defined by body size, age, race, gender, social status, or family dynamics. Eating disorders are multi-dimensional and treatment needs to be the same.”1

Eating disorders can affect anyone. Our assumptions about the “type” of person who has an eating disorder can be dangerous if they stop us from noticing unhealthy eating activity in our friends, our families, and ourselves.

#3: There is one specific weight or body type that is “healthy”.

There are dozens of complicated outside causes that play into eating disorders, especially about looks and health. Society, Hollywood, and social media have a lot to say about what is healthy and what looks good. Mixed messages and wrong messages can lead to unhealthy thought patterns and dangerous eating behaviors.

“The sad reality is that our society is obsessed with thinness and weight loss… Eating disordered behaviors continue to be applauded by society and even, tragically, by medical providers, as a result.”1

Dr. Jennifer Gaudiani of The Gaudiani Clinic also says that mistaken beliefs about weight cause us to make assumptions about people’s health just based on how they look.

“There’s a common misconception that if someone isn’t visibly malnourished or underweight, they must be fine. Or worse, if someone is in a larger body, they must need to lose weight to be healthy.”1

One lesson we can take from the words of these experts: eating disorders can affect just about anyone, no matter their gender, weight, or social status. Their unhealthy eating behaviors may be caused by pressure from society, pressure from themselves, or possibly other mental health disorders.

By taking the time to debunk these misunderstandings, you have a more informed view of eating disorders, and you are more ready to help yourself or someone you know that is struggling. Please use this guide from the Mayo Clinic for more advice on how to spot and help someone who may have an eating disorder.






HIV/STD Prevention Not Reaching Most Americans

According to figures published in 2018 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),  STD and HIV rates are at a troubling high across the U.S. with nearly 2.3 million new cases.

STD and HIV rates are on the rise, especially the most common: Gonorrhea, Syphilis and Chlamydia. For high-risk groups these diseases can be fatal although treatments are available.

A recent CDC study on HIV states that only a small group of Americans who could benefit from the HIV daily medication pill, called Prevention Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), receives the pill. According to, there were a total of 500,000 African-Americans and 300,000 Latinos who could have been treated with PrEP, however, only 7,000 PrEP prescriptions were filled for African-Americans and only 7,600 for Latinos during this time period (September 2015 – August 2016.)1 The CDC points out several key factors for this such as poverty, drug use, and unstable housing. The result is a negative effect on access to medication, protection and overall care.

Researchers have also pointed out three main factors contributing to the rise in STD and HIV rates: 1.) Decline of local funding agencies that work on prevention, both at state and local levels, 2.)  Budget cuts in public health centers and 3.) A lack of STD and HIV programs in underfunded areas.

As a result, STD/HIV detection and treatments for these populations have been negatively impacted. In areas facing underfunding of public health centers, there is decrease in staffing hours untimely facility closures and little to no treatment options for the public. This places the population at higher risk for infections.

1 HIV GOV. HIV Prevention Pill not Reaching Most Americans Who Could Benefit – Especially People of Color (2018). Retrieved
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Defining Health Disparities (2014). Retrieved

Trauma Informed Care

In the United States alone, trauma is the number one cause of death for individuals from 1 year old to 45 years old. Earlier this week, Dr. Earl Fredrick, NextLevel Health’s Senior Medical Director, participated in the American College of Surgeon’s Committee on Trauma’s convenings. The working group, titled ISAVE (Improving Social determinants to Attenuate ViolencE), brings medical professionals together to discuss the root causes of disparate health outcomes across communities.

Dr. Fredrick is a thought leader social determinants impact on health and influence on gun violence. In his recently published Harvard Public Health Review article, Death, Violence, Health and Poverty in Chicago, Dr. Fredrick explains that through his work and research on Chicago’s South Side, he found that the same neighborhoods with extremes of chronic disease also experienced extreme poverty, residential racial segregation, and gun violence. He noted the strong link between poverty, poor education, poor health, early death, racial residential segregation, and gun violence in Chicago. He has sought to address these social determinants to make our communities healthier.

This year, we partnered with Morehouse School of Medicine and the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Foundation to launch the Advancing Men’s Health Through Primary Care Conference. This national conference convened thought leaders from across the medical field to discuss how addressing the social determinants of health in our communities can help reduce instances of trauma specifically gun violence.

NextLevel Health’s Barbershop Initiative meets men in their communities. By partnering with local barbers and barbershops who are invested in promoting healthier outcomes in their communities, families are having critical conversations about the importance of health and economic development their neighborhoods. NextLevel Health equips our partner barbers with resources, information, and healthy snacks to help foster conversations about preventive health, and in many instances, the high levels of trauma that occur in their communities.

At NextLevel Health we are committed to managing and coordinating healthcare with a deep understanding of you, your community, and your health—one on one, right in your neighborhood. We work closely with a number of providers and facilities who provide Trauma Informed Care. When a Member is admitted due to trauma, our Care Coordinators provide support to our Trauma Center partners, support a safe discharge process for our Members, and assist in home health coordination and transportation to and from appointments. Nextlevel Health is also sensitive to the mental health needs that attend traumatic experiences, providing counseling and grieving opportunities for our Members.

The importance of Trauma Informed Care cannot be understated. On average, 96 Americans die by firearms each day. In Chicago alone, there were 561 homicides and more than 24,000 violent crimes in 2018. We are proud to have Dr. Fredrick’s expertise as we work together to not only improve Trauma Care, but to also help eliminate the root causes of disparate care across the communities we serve.

Members can now Receive Prescription Orders by Mail Today!

Happy New Year and welcome to another year of providing quality service with care at NextLevel Health! We wanted to remind you our members can receive mail order prescriptions for Homescripts®. Members can receive their medications at home or any other convenient mailing address at no charge to them. Prescriptions may be faxed, called in or mailed in to Homescripts® to be processed and shipped out to their selected address. Members can enroll in the service through an enrollment form posted on the website It will ensure members are receiving their medications allowing for greater rate of adherence.

Health News Illinois: On the Record with Dr. Cheryl Whitaker, CEO, NextLevel Health


NextLevel Health CEO Dr. Cheryl Whitaker meets monthly with community leaders to talk about housing, employment and barber shops.

She recently convened an advisory council of community partners aimed at tackling the social determinants of health. Members of the 30-person group range from behavioral health providers to substance abuse counselors to leaders of federally qualified health centers.

Progress is emphasized.

“Between every meeting, we try to get something done,” Whitaker said.

In a recent interview with Health News Illinois, Whitaker talked more about the Complete Health Advisory Council, the health plan’s embrace of technology and what she thinks about Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Medicaid buy-in plan.

Edited excerpts are below.

HNI: What is NextLevel doing to address the social determinants of health?

CW: We try to hire people who actually know the community and really care. We put people in areas of the city and we say, “Look, we need you to become an expert in this area of the city.” Because so much of healthcare is local. Most car accidents happen within five miles of home. Most healthcare happens within five miles of home.

So, if you are prescribing somebody to go take a walk, you’ve got to be sure they can go do that. And if they can’t, what are the other options to do that?

We also try to partner with folks who are doing this work. There are great agencies in the city and the county and the state who are doing work around the social determinants. Part of the work of the Complete Health Advisory Council is to bring us closer to those entities.

HNI: Can you explain more about the Complete Health Advisory Council?

CW: NextLevel Health is unique. When we started, we had a preponderance of men who became members.

As you know, when the Affordable Care Act went live, Medicaid expanded. Men who met the income requirements were eligible. As a new health plan, we received a large number of those ACA males. Many of them had never been in care before. So we were really struck with a high level of social determinants that were impacting these men’s health. We saw that only 19 percent of them had been to a doctor within the last year. So we knew, “Wow, we’re going to have a hard time meeting our quality metrics if we don’t figure out how to address some of the issues that are barriers to them going into the doctor.” That was one of the big impetuses to having to start thinking about this issue. We saw a lot of men in the hospital for gunshot wounds. And they would come out really disabled from many different issues.

So then there was the follow-up that was needed. There was also just, once they were well, getting them back into housing, employment, stability. So we were really challenged on that front. That’s why we said, “We need help. Who can we call in the community to help us really think about these issues in a holistic way?” And that was a big part of why we launched the Complete Health Advisory Council.

HNI: What’s happened with the advisory council so far?

CW: Our first convening was at the end of last year. It started out as a feedback session and several listening sessions across the south and west sides of Chicago, four to be exact. And then we said, “You know what? Let’s get together every month and get input. Let’s start linking.” It’s very organic. We have 30 people in the room and they’re like, “Well no, I do this. What, you do? Well we’re going to refer to you when we need to do this function because we don’t do this, but we can help you with that.”

HNI: What’s an example of an initiative the council has worked on so far?

CW: In the last part of last year, the barbers who are at the Complete Health events said, “We think our barbershops could really be a resource. Could you help us figure out how we could be a part of this and support these goals and help our clients?” So what we did is we created the barbershop initiative. We are up in five barber shops now. It’s very simple. There’s a table in the barbershop that’s draped. We have information on the annual adult wellness exam, mental health screening and depression – all from a male perspective. And on the table is, “Hey, here are three health centers within three miles of here that you can go to. Here’s their number. Here is their address. Here are their late hours and Saturday hours.”

So we not only are giving people information, but also an opportunity to take action. A lot of times they don’t know that their health centers are right down the street, who will be welcoming to them.

The goal is in between every meeting, which will be monthly, we try to get one, two or three things done that the council has identified that we can control.

So it’s really action-oriented.

HNI: What can policymakers do to make it easier to address social determinants of health?

CW: This issue is bigger than healthcare …The chronic under-investment in these communities is actually overwhelming. And the gun violence and its impact, along with the mass incarceration of these folks, has left a lot of these communities really crippled.

I would like for us to look at how do we revitalize these communities and invest in families that will promote stability of family. Then they could focus on their health. So that’s a bigger answer to the question that you’re asking, because there’s no sort of one thing. I think we need a true sort of plan for capital investment in these communities.

HNI: How is NextLevel embracing technology?

CW: If I had my druthers, NextLevel Health would be a technology company. Because even low-income people are engaged with technology. We have not figured out yet how to bring our members in through technology. Medicaid hasn’t traditionally done that. We have an app. Only about 55 of our members are using the app.

They go on the website, which is mobile friendly. But they’re not using that app. There’s a lot of functionality in there. But it hasn’t hit them yet.

So, a couple things. NowPow [which connects patients with community resources] is an important partner. VirtualHealth is our care management platform, which allows folks to be out in the community. It’s mobile. It’s cloud-based. Things are uploaded immediately to the server. And then PatientPing. Wow. What an innovation. We talked to them in November. When I heard about it, I pushed the team. I’m like, “Guys, get this up now. Right now.” By Jan. 2, it was live.

It’s a game-changer. The minute a member hits the ER, gets admitted, we know. Before we didn’t know. And some of the people we couldn’t find. We have members who’ve been admitted or used the emergency room like 100 times in a year. Think about the healthcare costs going out the window. Think about the inefficiency for that person getting what they need. We can stop that. So we’re really looking forward to seeing the outcomes of us being able to engage with PatientPing.

We’ve only been live two weeks. We’ve already found out where about 200 people we have been looking for are. We know what ERs they are in now. And we know if they are in the hospital sooner than we would know with the old system.

HNI: Last year, the state embarked on a significant expansion of Medicaid managed care. How do you think that has gone so far?

CW: One of the challenges was likely the speed at which we did it. And probably more of an opportunity to really communicate to people, members and providers, what managed Medicaid meant. So that was a tough adjustment period for many of our providers. One of the things we’ve been doing is doing a lot of on-the-ground work – going out and talking to providers, which they’ve really appreciated.

I think we’ve made a lot of progress addressing some of the issues. It’s a large program. It’s a big state. There are thousands and thousands of providers in the Medicaid program. To educate them all and bring them forward at the same time was challenging.

HNI: There’s been lingering concern from providers over late and denied payments from managed care plans. How do you respond to that? Is that still an issue?

CW: This is something that the department really cares about. And they have asked us to work extremely hard to do whatever it takes to make sure providers understand how to bill. And so the health plan association has spent a great deal of energy, we’ve come together to put together a comprehensive billing guide.

Providers can access that information, so that if there are billing errors being made they can correct those. We’ve been doing a lot of work one-on-one with providers, particularly hospitals, to help them with any billing issues that they might have.

And we are doing everything we can to be sure that we can reduce unnecessary denials or rejections from the processing system. There is a certain rigor now that you have with managed Medicaid. When you fill out that bill, you’ve got to fill the whole thing out or these systems will reject it. So educating providers about that has been a key initiative for the health plan association and for us this year.

HNI: Gov. Pritzker campaigned on creating a public option for Medicaid that would allow residents to buy into the program. Is that something you support?

CW: Anything that can improve overall access and, we hope, better quality for folks, we will be in favor of. I need to understand, though, more details about the program. As you know, the Medicaid dollars are matched by the feds. So with this, would there be a match? How would we create the pool? From an actuarial perspective, how would it be rated? Those are some of the complex actuarial questions I would want to understand.

Overall, I’m intrigued. I’d like to hear more. I’d love to see more people insured rather than not. That I can say with 100 percent certainty.

Why Early Screenings Matter

Have you heard of cancer screenings? It means to check your body for cancer.

Screenings can prevent cancer. They help find problems early. Cancer is easier to treat if it is caught early. It can spread fast. It’s harder to treat later.

Which screenings do you need?

We each have different screening needs. They are based on:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Health history
  • Risk factors

Doctors help to figure out our needs. Talk to your doctor to learn more.

What are the risk factors?

Risk means the chance of getting cancer. People at risk might need to get screenings at younger ages. Sometimes they need screenings more often.

Risk factors:

  • Older age
  • Family history of cancer
  • Smoking
  • Radiation exposure

NextLevel Health’s Preventive Services

The following cancer screenings are covered by NextLevel:

  • Cervical cancer screening. Women over 21 should be screened for cervical cancer. Women over 30 should be screened and get HPV testing.
  • Breast cancer screening. Mammograms are an image of the breast. Women 40 and over should get mammograms to screen for cancer.
  • Prostate cancer screening. This exam screens for prostate cancer in men. NextLevel Health covers prostate cancer screenings for men over 50. We also cover screenings for men at risk over 40.

Cancer screenings are one part of preventive services. There are other things you can do to lower your risk of cancer.

How to lower your risk:

  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise
  • Quit smoking

TEDx Talk – Taking Health Care to the Streets

Last month I delivered a TEDx talk in Nashville, which is now posted on YouTube and I hope you will watch. It was about health care for underserved communities, a subject so important to me that it inspired a major course correction in my career and led to open of NextLevel Health.

It has long frustrated me that for many communities, especially those that are low-income, health care is not always viewed as an entitlement. I grew up in one of those communities and know the story all too well. People only went to the doctor when they were seriously ill and by then it was usually too late.

Why? There was no such thing as good health education and preventative care. Residents didn’t understand their health care insurance benefits, and it didn’t matter because they wouldn’t take advantage of them even if they did know how they worked. Worst of all, hospitals were a place to avoid at all costs.

In my talk, I explain how we’re working to break through these unfortunate myths and to get to a place where everyone has access to health care services, and knows how to use them to stay healthy. I would really appreciate it if you would view my TEDx talk, which is about 13 minutes long, and give me your feedack. And I would be so grateful if you could forward it to your friends and colleagues—either directly or through social media, to garner as much attention for this issue as possible.

I’m devoting my life to changing the health care equation, and reaching a greater audience means the world to me.

Thank you so much.


Dr. Cheryl Whitaker


Stay Healthy During Flu Season

Flu season is here! One of the best ways to stay healthy is to get a flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a flu shot every year for everyone 6 months and older. It takes about two weeks for the shot to protect you. Every year, flu shots keep illnesses and flu-related hospitalizations down.

Have you gotten a flu shot yet? If not, you still have time. The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) has clinics where kids under 18 can get a free flu shot. You don’t need an appointment. Shots are given on a first-come, first-serve basis. Learn more here. is another great resource to find free flu shots.

Flu season can start as early as October and last as long as May. Now is time to protect yourself!

Other ways to stay healthy:

Flu shots are just a part of flu prevention. Good habits can help protect you and your family from the flu.

The Cook County Department of Public Health recommends practicing the three C’s:


  • Clean: Always wash your hands.
  • Cover: Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
  • Contain: Don’t spread germs. Stay home if you’re sick.