The Wisconsin Hospital Association and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin are suggesting that Gov. Scott Walker's health care agency delay transitioning Wisconsinites off Medicaid as long as the online health insurance marketplace is not functioning properly.
A spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, which is implementing Walker's plan for insuring the state's low-income population, said the agency has no intention of changing its course.
"Both Gov. Walker and the Department of Health Services continue to move forward with operationalizing the Affordable Care Act and the governor's entitlement reform plan," agency spokeswoman Claire Smith said Tuesday.
The pleas from Wisconsin Hospital Association executive vice president Eric Borgerding and Baldwin, a Democrat, joined similar concerns expressed by some county executives in Wisconsin and patient advocacy groups in Madison.
In spite of efforts by hospitals, clinics, navigators and DHS officials, enrollment for the online health plan cannot be completed, the Wisconsin Hospital Association said in its Nov. 8 newsletter. The situation is raising concerns among hospital executives that the more than 70,000 people who are losing Medicaid eligibility Jan. 1, 2014, will not connect to coverage on the exchange prior to that date.
Walker rejected President Barack Obama's plan to expand Medicaid coverage. Walker's administration is implementing a plan in which Wisconsinites at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty level are supposed to enroll for Medicaid. Those who had received the state's BadgerCare Medicaid program but have incomes of more than 100 percent of the poverty level are being urged to sign up for coverage on the marketplace.
Borgerding said in the hospital association newsletter that hospitals and their partners in the community are continuing to educate and assist people who are trying to enroll on the exchange.
"We are committed to doing everything we can to help Gov. Walker accomplish his goal of cutting the uninsured rate in half in Wisconsin," Borgerding said.
However, Borgerding said it would be ideal if DHS would delay transitioning people off the Medicaid program until the exchange is working.
Baldwin issued a press release Tuesday saying she sent a letter to Walker raising concerns about his plan and offering solutions "to ensure our constituents maintain the health coverage they need."
"Your current outreach plan calls for residents who will lose their BadgerCare coverage to receive final notice at the end of November, leaving them just two weeks to enroll or they will lose coverage on Jan. 1," Baldwin said in the letter. "Given the state's current timeline for direct outreach to these individuals, the major issues with the federal government's ACA website, and the fast-approaching deadline, thousands of people are at risk of losing their coverage."
The Department of Health Services has several outreach strategies for people who may be transitioning to the marketplace, Smith said.
"We are continuing these outreach plans while the federal government works out the technical problems," Smith said. "The federal government has indicated that they are building capacity and working on the technical issues with the website, and individuals also have the option to apply by mail or phone."
People who do not apply for and enroll in a health insurance plan in the marketplace by Dec. 15 will not have coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2014, Smith noted. However, the open enrollment period for the marketplace has been extended for this first year through March 31, 2014.
The DHS also has strong support with the agency's regional enrollment networks, partnerships with more than 1,500 health care providers, tribal agencies, local public health departments and veterans groups, Smith said.
"We believe that we are making a strong outreach effort to people who are transitioning to the marketplace," she said.