County bracing for changes to state, federal health care rules

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Monday, September 23, 2013

JANESVILLE—Rock County's Economic Support Division is bracing for an onslaught of phone calls regarding changes to BadgerCare and the requirements of the Affordable Health Care Act.

Background: As of Oct. 1, an estimated 400,000 Wisconsin residents will face an individual mandate to buy health insurance as part of the federal Affordable Health Care Act.

At the same time, almost 200,000 statewide will move on to or off of BadgerCare because of changes in state law.

Earlier this year, the state estimated Rock County will have to process at least 4,900 inquiries between October and the end of December.

In the next two years, the state estimates the numbers each year could be as high as 5,500 new BadgerCare applications and renewals in Rock County and 8,800 marketplace inquiries.

Preparation: The county has hired and trained 14 additional economic support staff to deal with the additional calls, said Karla Haigh, economic support division manager. Three more will be hired to help with walk-ins at the job center, where the economic support division is located.

The department already has seen an increase in calls because of the changes, Haigh said.

Challenges: Economic support staff routinely enroll clients on BadgerCare. This fall, however, they will deal with people who have received letters telling them they are no longer eligible and have to find subsidized coverage in the open marketplace. 

Economic support staff are not trained or certified “navigators” for the health care marketplace: They can lead clients to the marketplace, but they can't help them choose.

Each part of the state is handling the health care changes differently, and that adds to the confusion, said Phil Boutwell, deputy director of human services.

For example, the state runs the economic support system in Milwaukee County, and officials there might handle people looking for help with the health care marketplace differently, Boutwell said.

To apply for insurance through the marketplace, individuals can go to HealthCare.gov.  The site offers a step-by-step process to apply. Prices for different plans will be available Oct. 1.

What's next: Boutwell and Haigh on Thursday will give the Rock County Board an outline of their department's plan for handling changes to BadgerCare and the start of the Affordable Health Care Act.

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