LA CROSSE, WI -

State, county and local officials are gearing up for next week, when thousands of Wisconsinites without healthcare coverage will be able to shop for insurance via an online marketplace.

The marketplace will open Oct. 1. People will be able to compare different health insurance plans and choose the one that best fits them and their family.

“It’s under the same theory as Expedia or Orbitz, or some kind of travel website,” said Michael Richards, executive director of External Affairs at Gundersen Health Systems.

According to experts, the online marketplace primarily offers health insurance options to three groups:

  • People who currently don’t have healthcare coverage
  • BadgerCare or Medicaid recipients who may no longer qualify for coverage in 2014
  • People who currently have a health insurance package that’s too expensive

More than 90,000 people will no longer be eligible for BadgerCare coverage next year, according to Lorie Graff of the Western Region for Economic Assistance Consortium. Those people will receive a letter this week warning them that they may need to shop elsewhere for health insurance.

Richards said even  people who aren’t sure whether they will be covered under BadgerCare next year should look at the options available to them via the online marketplace.

“We're trying to tell people even if you are under Medicaid or have questions, it's better to just to go onto the marketplace today,” Richards said. “The program will tell you whether or not you qualify for the marketplace or you qualify for Medicaid."

People who already have health insurance but find it’s not affordable can be eligible for subsidies through the marketplace. According to Richards, if an individual’s out-of-pocket costs associated with health insurance equals more than 9.5 percent of their income, subsidized insurance can be available.

The marketplace is the only venue where subsidized insurance is available to an individual or family, according to Richards. People can find out if they’re eligible for subsidies by filling out the appropriate application on the online marketplace.

People heading to the marketplace to buy health insurance will need to have several pieces of information handy:

  • Social security numbers, or document numbers for legal immigrants
  • Employer and income information for every household member – this can be a pay stub or W-2 form
  • Policy numbers for any current health insurance plans
  • Employer information for any job-based insurance plans

There will be help available for those who don’t want to go through the marketplace process alone. La Crosse County will offer at least two certified application counselors through its Economic Assistance office. Those counselors will guide people through the online application process.

Surrounding counties, healthcare providers and other community organizations will also provide counselors. La Crosse County will provide a continuously updated list of available counselors by Oct. 1.

Here's how you can get more information and sign up for insurance through the Marketplace:
Wisconsin
www.healthcare.gov | 1-800-318-2596
Minnesota
www.mnsure.org | (855) 366-7873
Iowa
www.healthcare.gov | 1-800-318-2596

Wisconsin BadgerCare recipients can call 1-800-362-3002 to find out more information on their healthcare coverage status.

Federal law mandates that all Americans have health insurance by Jan. 1, 2014. Those without will be subject to a fine.

Individuals on Medicare do not need to shop for insurance on the marketplace, and they are not subject to the federal mandate on healthcare coverage.