Health advocates mull implementing health care law
MIDDLETON--Gov. Scott Walker's administration is working aggressively to make sure people who need to sign up to a private health insurance exchange under new federal rules have the information they need on time, Wisconsin's Medicaid director Brett Davis said Tuesday.
Davis stressed that even though everyone is working under a tight deadline to get people enrolled to the exchanges starting in October, he believed many private groups would be involved in smoothing the transition.
A key part of President Barack Obama's health care law, the exchanges are supposed to transform the way individuals and small businesses buy private health insurance by increasing transparency and competition and boosting government oversight of insurers. The federal government will subsidize the policies with hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money.
But at a meeting Tuesday in Middleton of about 60 representatives of hospitals, insurance companies, health clinics, veterans groups and others, many voiced concerns about the enormity of the task of enrolling an estimated 600,000 people by January when the exchanges go live.
The federal government is establishing the exchange in Wisconsin after Walker decided not to have the state do it. Walker is a vocal opponent of the health care law and has repeatedly called for its repeal. He also did not accept federal money to help pay to expand Medicaid coverage.
Instead, Walker is reducing the state's Medicaid ranks by an estimated 92,000, making coverage available only to those who make less than 100 percent of poverty. Those 92,000 people, along with another 400,000 who don't currently have insurance, are the target groups expected to be looking for insurance through the exchange when it starts taking applications in six weeks.
"We know this is a big task and there's not enough resources to do the job," said Stephanie Harrison, executive director of Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association. That group, which works with federally qualified health centers around the state, is helping to run the organizational meetings.
There are a lot of assets available, but they need to be better coordinated to deal with the influx of 600,000 people into the exchange, she said.
Those who interact with people looking to get enrolled need to know what to tell them and where to send them, said Jean Nothnagel, an outreach specialist with Covering Kids and Families, which works to get children and families enrolled in Medicaid programs.
Marlin Harms, who is a supervisor for the Iowa County Department of Social Services, said his biggest concern was not knowing what was going to happen when the enrollment period beings.
"We're gearing up so hopefully we'll be OK," he said.
Davis, the state Medicaid director, said he expected about 1,000 people to attend the enrollment information meetings over the next two weeks. The goal is to have plans in place by Sept. 16, about a week before letters will be sent to the 92,000 people notifying them they will be losing Medicaid coverage at the beginning of the year.
"There is truly a movement," Davis said. "That movement is happening because we have a common interest, and that is getting people signed up for insurance."