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Milwaukee Awarded Presidential Visit For Signing Up Huge Numbers For Health Care


President Obama will visit Milwaukee Thursday to celebrate the city’s victory in the Healthy Communities Challenge.

The White House unveiled the challenge in November. Cities competed to sign up the greatest number of residents for the Affordable Care Act during the open enrollment period. Milwaukee generated the most impressive numbers, yet concerns persist.

Milwaukee beat out nearly two dozen cities that accepted the Healthy Communities Challenge. According to the White house, 90,000 Milwaukee residents selected a plan through the Affordable Care Act; nearly half were new enrollees.

One person who assisted in the massive effort was Clare Reardon, of the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership. She says the city came up with creative ways to reach out to people.

“Inserting reminders in city water bills, doing calls to all the Housing Authority residents,” Reardon says.

Reardon says her organization signed up large numbers during the final days of the open enrollment period.

“Many people wait until the very last minute to meet their obligations and that was certainly the case this year. So, on Jan. 30 and Jan. 31 our colleagues staffed in-person assistance for anyone who walked in the door or made an appointment, and they enrolled more than 100 individuals in those two days,” Reardon says.

Reardon notes that Milwaukee signed up big numbers in 2015, in the face of stiff opposition.

“We have to repeal Obamacare entirely, lock, stock and barrel," said Gov. Walker when he ran for President last summer. He vowed to scrap the ACA and replace it with a plan that would not fine people who fail to carry health insurance. Walker also rejected federal ACA money that would have opened Medicaid to people living slightly above the poverty line. 

“There were even some Republicans who wanted us to grab the money. But, we turned it down because we knew how difficult it would be to repeal Obamacare if states were adding to it, were expanding underneath it,” Walker says.

Walker’s decision required many residents living above poverty to shop for insurance.

“The federal government would have fully paid for it but instead, they need to enroll in the marketplace and the marketplace was not designed for them," says Robert Craig. He is executive director of the activist group Citizen Action of Wisconsin.

Craig says the marketplace carries costs and complexities. The city helped some of those people enter the health care system, during the White House challenge. Yet, according to Craig, more than 50,000 remain uninsured in the Milwaukee area.

Thursday’s celebration is for those who have connected.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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