Local officials prepare for marketplace opening
Will there be enough help available?
Millions of uninsured Americans will have the opportunity to log on to their computers and shop for healthcare coverage starting tomorrow, when the health insurance marketplace goes live.
Through the online exchanges, people can compare different coverage options and see if they qualify for subsidized insurance.
But are marketplace organizers in western Wisconsin ready to help people enroll starting Tuesday?
Wisconsin state officials estimate that about 75 percent of people planning to use the marketplace will want some help - that means here in western Wisconsin, more than 60 certified application counselors will be needed to help walk those people through the process.
But some unforeseen delays in the training process might mean that there won't be 60 CACs available to help you right away Tuesday.
In addition to the federally-mandated five hours of training and exam, Wisconsin requires CACs to take an additional 16 hours of training along with another test. But with only 5 exam locations across the state, some organizations say they're seeing delays.
For example, out of the 25 counselor trainees Gundersen Health Systems will offer, only 2 have been able to take the exam so far.
"We'd like to see more testing opporuntities out there, but we know the state's trying to work on that," said Michael Richards of external affairs at Gundersen.
He added the problem isn't unique to Wisconsin - other states are dealing with delays, and some counselor training problems have come from the federal level, as well.
"This is an issue that's all across the country right now, is a lot of people are trying to get tested," Richards said.
La Crosse and surrounding counties are dealing with their own delays. Eight counties including La Crosse planned on hiring 9 CACs altogether, but because they're waiting on authorization from state officials, those counselors likely won't be in place by Tuesday.
The Office of the Commissioner of Insurance - which puts on the CAC training and exams - says it hasn't heard of any delays or waitlists at the exam locations, but a spokesperson did say they've had complaints about the distance people have to drive to get to those locations.
Despite these and other potential setbacks, officials are describing the enrollment process as a marathon, not a sprint. People have until Dec. 15 to enroll in the health insurance marketplace to make sure they're covered for next year. More CACs be added as fall continues, and there's plenty of time to get help.
"Even if there are some challenges, we are going to be prepared moving forward," Richards said. "We ask people just to be a little patient early on, because we're trying to figure this out as well, and trying to put the proper resources in the right spot to assist them."
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