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Advocates Report Slow Progress in Healthcare Exchange Enrollment


It has been difficult for people in Milwaukee to sign up for health coverage on the new exchange.

The federal government opened the online marketplace last Tuesday, but widespread glitches have plagued the website. Still, people in Milwaukee are eager to get health coverage or help others enroll.

The city health department has hired and trained several people to help residents access the new healthcare exchange and choose coverage.

Yet, as of midday Tuesday, those helpers had yet to enroll a single person because the site has been down for a week.

Even so, Health Commissioner Bevan Baker says people continue seeking information from the city’s health centers.

“There have been many people who are trying to enroll. What we’re finding, even amongst some of the technical difficulties, people are still calling, they’re still coming back, they’re being very resourceful,” Baker says.

Baker says local agencies hope to reach 140,000 people in Milwaukee County.

“We’re finding spouses whose husbands may have, or wives may have insurance but it’s too costly for one or the other to include their significant other. We’re seeing retirees. We’re seeing the self employed. We’re seeing others who are just looking for better premium options,” Baker says.

Wisconsin did not receive federal money to promote its exchange, because Gov. Walker refused to create or manage it.

Baker says the lack of billboards and ads makes the job of enrolling people more challenging.

“But we are going exactly where people are and that sometimes means that we have to get out, we have to get up to people, go door to door, we have to get the churches, we have to get the parishes, we have to get to the rec centers, we have to get to schools. We are gonna do that. Yes, our job is harder, but our job is not impossible,” Baker says.

Throughout Milwaukee, some agencies say they’re beginning to have a bit of luck getting people through the enrollment process.

Billie Nash is with Progressive Community Health Centers.

“One of our counselors has been able to register three patients so far on the website. It’s been a very, very slow process,” Nash says.

Nash says in addition to helping people navigate the exchange, her agency is helping set up email accounts.

“Some of our patients have never used email, so there has to be some training on how to use email, how to access it, so on and so forth. And then of course, some of the patients don’t have computers,” Nash says.

The Milwaukee Public Library is getting into the act. It’s offering computer access and assistance. Judy Pinger is business and technology coordinator. She says the Central Library will have healthcare counselors on hand from 3 to 5:30 Wednesday.

“Come right on up to the second floor to the lab and then they can sit down with a certified application counselor and then go through the process of applying for benefits or seeing what could be out there for them in the marketplace,” Pinger says.

Bevan Baker, Milwaukee’s health commissioner, says despite the exchange’s messy start, he’s convinced thousands will eventually sign up for coverage.

Then, he says, will come a new challenge – getting the newly insured hooked up with doctors.

“My big concern will shift probably in a month or so to, not whether we’re enrolling people, are people being comprehensively case managed to the right providers so they can get the care they need? They’re gonna have insurance. So we just need to make certain that our provider networks are ready to handle the volume,” Baker says.

There may also have to be reminders about premiums. They’ll be due December 15, in order for coverage to begin in January. The federal government will provide subsidies, depending on income.

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