Affordable Care Act Open Enrollment Begins Saturday

Nov 13, 2014

Those who missed signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act last year have a new opportunity starting this weekend.

In 2013, "navigators" helped many people in Milwaukee sign up for plans under the ACA. This year, insurance agents are expected to play a larger role.
Credit Erin Toner

Open enrollment for health plans on the federal exchange starts Saturday and runs through February 15.

It’s for people who need new coverage, and for those with existing plans to renew and view new options. Consumers will notice changes, including a better healthcare.gov – the federal website Wisconsin residents can use to enroll in the ACA.

Last year, technical glitches forced people to wait for hours if not days to access the site, and the government was forced to extend the enrollment period.

“Yes, many improvements have been made to the website,” says Joy Tapper, executive director of the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership. She says things should run more smoothly this time around both online and over the phone.

“The federal government has added over 1,000 additional individuals working at the call center. I believe that they have taken constructive feedback from enrollment assistors, agents, brokers and consumers and really enhanced the marketplace website capability,” Tapper says.

The website now allows customers to compare policies without first having to enter extensive personal information.

During last year’s ACA enrollment period, nearly 140,000 Wisconsin residents bought plans. Most got a government subsidy to help offset the cost. Tapper says it’s not clear how many of the people Gov. Walker bumped off BadgerCare have enrolled.

The program welcomed 42,000 childless adults living in poverty, while directing thousands of participants above the poverty line to the federal marketplace.

Tapper says there are only estimates as to the number of people in Wisconsin who lack health coverage.

“Right now we’re guessing what that might be. We’re suggesting that there may be as many as 10 percent of the population still uninsured,” Tapper says.

Danielle Coterel is with Covering Kids and Families, the ACA navigator for six southern Wisconsin counties. She says last year, four insurers offered about 90 different plans for consumers in Milwaukee County. This year, two, new companies are entering the mix and the number of plans – and some terms – will change.

“There may be differences in deductibles and co-payments and co-insurance. There’s also going to be some variance in provider networks and so, which plan is contracted with which hospital and which health care clinic. So it’s really important for consumers to look at all their options because a plan could be better for them this year that it was last year based on their specific needs,” Coterel says.

Coterel says people may also find they’re eligible for a different level of government assistance.

“The financial assistance is based on how much money they have coming in, but it’s also based on the federal poverty level, and there will be changes to the federal poverty level. So even if a consumer’s information hasn’t changed, likely their subsidies are,” she says.

Coterel says plan premiums are expected to vary, with some going up and others down.

But exact prices won’t be known until enrollment opens on Saturday, according to Todd Catlin, owner of Transition Health Benefits, an insurance brokerage agency. Brokers are expected to play a larger role during in ACA enrollment this year because the program scaled back funding for so-called “navigators.” Instead, insurers on the exchange will pay firms such as Catlin’s when they bring in customers.

“Where the agent and broker’s expertise is, is delineating all those little nuances between the health plans themselves and how they’re network is structured and set up and how the plan is actually designed,” Catlin says.

There are more than 100 sites in Milwaukee County where residents can get help finding plans on the exchange or to sign up for BadgerCare.