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Our views: State needs help with new health care law

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September 12, 2013

State health and insurance officials are approaching the start of the Affordable Care Act in a pragmatic and reasonable way that could be a lesson for opponents of the law here and in Washington, D.C.

The Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, is the law of the land. It will happen, despite stubborn and doomed efforts to overturn the plan or remove funding. And it will happen soon.

So it's best to get ready. Officials from Wisconsin's Office of the Commission of Insurance, which is part of the Department of Health Services, are spreading the word and preparing  the state as the Oct. 1 starting line approaches.

Those officials were in Janesville last week to meet with The Gazette's editorial board. They outlined their well-conceived and -structured approach to educating the public about the complex changes coming to health care coverage for many state residents. They will, however, need help.

Despite the hype, most people won't be affected by the new regulations. The majority of people in the U.S. get their health insurance through employers, and that coverage will stay relatively the same. Some changes in deductibles, out-of-pocket expenses and coverage might be forthcoming, but that trend started long before Obamacare.

As Gazette reporter Jim Leute laid out in a Sept. 6 story after the officials' visit, the people most directly affected are those who are uninsured or who have received coverage through government programs, especially Medicaid. Many are poor or disenfranchised and aren't easy to reach through typical media and marketing channels.

The state's outreach plan includes a regional network that will lean on grassroots organizations to help the right people apply and get enrolled. The plan is for 12 regions. Rock County will join Jefferson, Green, Lafayette, Iowa, Grant and Crawford counties in one network.

The goal, as Leute reported, is to infiltrate advocacy groups, food pantries, free clinics, and homeless centers with trained and licensed counselors who can guide people through enrollment.

“We need to go to the individual where they touch the system rather than through a global network,” said Kitty Rhoades, secretary of the Department of Health Services.

Starting Jan. 1, federal law will require most people to have health insurance, either through an employer, from an insurer on the open market or through health insurance exchanges set up in each state. The exchanges will offer small businesses, individuals and families a chance to shop for coverage through private plans, with tax credit and subsidies for low-income consumers.

Most consumers in the individual market will have one opportunity a year to buy coverage. The initial open enrollment period runs from Oct. 1 through March 31, but for coverage to start Jan. 1, people must sign up and pay their first premiums by Dec. 15.

The clock is ticking, and state officials recognize the importance of moving quickly. Now, local groups that work with the people most likely to need help with their health care choices must engage and do their parts to be sure that their clients and customers don't miss out on the coverage available in this new health care environment.



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