County, healthcare providers offer help with insurance marketplace

Online exchanges set to open Oct. 1

With the online marketplace set to go live in less than two days, county officials and community organizations are scrambling to make sure they’re ready with counselors to help you through the health insurance process.

La Crosse County, healthcare providers and organizations like Saint Clare Health Mission are providing certified application counselors – these are people who can walk you through the online application once the marketplace opens. But they are limited in the advice they can offer you.

“A counselor can’t steer them in any direction,” explained Sandy Brekke, clinic director at Saint Clare. “So you can tell them about the programs, but you cannot choose a program, they need to do that for themselves.”

This means CACs can help you navigate the online marketplace and answer your general questions about health insurance, but if you’re asking what coverage package is the right one for you, counselors will hand you off to an insurance agent or broker.

So where can you find these CACs starting October 1-st?

Saint Clare will have two on hand right away on Tuesday. Mayo Clinic is offering four across their western region locations – you can find out which ones by checking the “Locations” tab at the clinic’s website,


La Crosse County is hoping to have two full-time CACs and one part-time counselor trained and ready to help by Tuesday. The eight counties associated with the Western Region for Economic Assistance Consortium will have nine CACs altogether.

Gundersen Health Systems will have at least two here in La Crosse, though officials said they’re expecting to have 25 available once their training is complete.

More volunteers are expected to add to the pool of available CACs as October goes on, according to Lorie Graff of the Western Region for Economic Assistance Consortium.

“That might not be right away on Tuesday, but they’re definitely gearing up to make sure that they can help, too,” Graff said of the volunteers.

A complete list of CACS in the region will be made available Tuesday, and county officials will continue to update it as more counselors are added.

People turning to CACs for help enrolling in the marketplace will need to bring along the following pieces of information:

–    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
County officials are asking that people bring one other thing with them – patience.

“Have patience, because it is a lot of people that are going to be going through the marketplace,” Graff said. “If you come to one of the sites on the CAC list, we’re going to get you some help.”