If you’ve gotten married, had a child or lost company insurance coverage, you can enroll for health insurance on the federal marketplace for 60 days after the event occurred, even though open enrollment is closed.
Advocates throughout Milwaukee are attempting to get the word out that these types of life-changing events open a window in the Affordable Care Act marketplace. Open enrollment will not begin again for another three months.
“We see enrollment as a continuous process. We really want people to know that there are many opportunities for individuals to enroll,” said Joy Tapper, executive director of the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership, adding that individuals and families can also enroll at any time in BadgerCare, the state’s Medicaid program, if they meet income requirements.
Volunteers for the Common Ground Health Cooperative, a member-owned insurance company with policies available on the federal Affordable Care Act marketplace, also continue going door to door, educating Milwaukee residents and small business owners on their health care options, much like they did last winter and spring.
“We haven’t stopped and are not going to stop,” said Bob Connolly, board president of the cooperative, noting that small business owners can purchase insurance for their employees on the exchange at any time.
The Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin also continues to be busy with people stopping by the organization’s Vliet Street offices and attending events to learn about their health insurance options and to enroll in BadgerCare or the ACA, according to Clarene Mitchell, an organization spokeswoman.
“We were busy and continue to be busy … the ACA work is not done,” she said.
The organization also has seen an influx of individuals who are now eligible for BadgerCare, after eligibility in the state’s Medicaid program expanded earlier this year to include childless adults who earn less than the federal poverty line, about $11,500.
More than 31,000 adults without children have signed up for BadgerCare in the county since the expansion, amounting to about 70 percent of those who are eligible, according to Tapper.
“It’s remarkable and beyond what was estimated,” she said.
Tapper said the number of low-income childless adults who signed up for BadgerCare indicates the work done by health insurance advocates such as the Black Health Coalition this winter and spring has paid dividends in decreasing the overall number of uninsured.
Tapper said that part of the success in BadgerCare enrollment can be attributed to efforts to educate individuals on all of their insurance options, not just the Affordable Care Act marketplace.
Although BadgerCare enrollment numbers are readily available, Affordable Care Act marketplace enrollment data has not been released at the county, city or ZIP code level, limiting advocates’ ability to quantify their efforts earlier this year.
Those numbers will go a long way in helping the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership, a cooperative made up of more than 100 organizations throughout the area, prepare for the next open enrollment period from Nov. 15 to Feb. 15, Tapper said.
“We hope to secure that data to drill down and understand where there are still pockets of opportunity,” Tapper said.
In the meantime, officials at the partnership organizations are trying to absorb new federal regulations for renewing or changing ACA marketplace insurance plans during the next open enrollment period, Tapper said.
The organizations also are working to strengthen the relationship between application counselors and area insurance agents and brokers, who have a wealth of expertise in the field that they can share, she said.
After the Common Ground Health Cooperative enrolled 25,000 people, 250 percent more than its goal during the first enrollment period, the organization hired 35 staffers to handle customer service and operations. In addition, the cooperative has worked to ensure billing and claims are timely and that customer service representatives are able to navigate through the complexities of health insurance, Connolly said.
“We have had a few problems in that regard because we’ve had to catch up with the enrollment, but it’s working,” he said, adding that the organization’s customer service department is being reorganized to help manage the calls.
The effort to get people enrolled in the federal health care marketplace during the first open enrollment period was stymied by problems with the federal website Healthcare.gov.
Mitchell said staff at the Black Health Coalition learned during the first open enrollment period the importance of staying up to speed on any problems with the website and any spur-of-the-moment changes at the federal level involving deadlines and regulations.
“It was hard to do it flawlessly as we were learning as we went,” she said. “But it helped that we at least had the foundation of being a community health advocacy organization and this being our daily work.”
Connolly said getting prospective enrollees to sign up during the second enrollment period will likely be easier than during the first because they have had time to understand the marketplace, their insurance options and income-based subsidies that may be available to them.
“More people now will talk to their friends and neighbors and it will have a cumulative effect,” he said. “We also had a lot of people who were uninsured that didn’t understand it or didn’t understand what was going on. The word of mouth will create more enrollment for us.”
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