Hospitals address potential surge of newly insured

With more than 30,000 uninsured people living in Wisconsin, local hospitals could potentially be seeing a sudden surge in new patients if those uninsured are able to get enrolled via the online marketplace.

But that’s the catch – if people can get enrolled. With persistent problems plaguing the marketplace website, experts say few people have been able to make it through the application process and sign up for health insurance.

According to Michael Richards, executive director of External Affairs at Gundersen Health Systems, only about 30 people have been able to enroll for the hospital’s coverage plan.

“We’ve seen a very limited amount of people who are going to make it through the process, far below any expectation of what we anticipated early on,” Richards said. “I think you’ve seen that nationwide, not just here in Wisconsin.”

Neither Gundersen Health Systems nor Mayo Clinic has upped its staff or expanded its hours to serve a higher patient population – mostly because, if the marketplace is any indicator of the future, they don’t expect to see that higher population anytime soon.

They say the glitchy marketplace website has allowed few people to enroll for health insurance – and as a result, hospitals likely won’t see a sudden increase in their patient population.


But that’s not what all clinics are reporting. Saint Clare Health Mission says its signed up dozens of its patients through the online marketplace since it opened. Employees are now guiding people toward the local hospitals to find primary care, often for the first time.

“Yesterday, I sat down in the morning with six people and walked them through the marketplace. Of those six people, five of them haven’t ever had a primary care provider,” said Sandy Brekke, St. Clare clinic director.

“Our patient population does not have a primary care provider. If they did, they wouldn’t be here at St. Clare.”

Despite the numbers of patients Brekke says she’s sending to Gundersen and Mayo for their first time, neither hospital has immediate plans to re-stock their staff – but both said that could change in the future.

“We’ll continue to have discussions,” Richards said. “We’re going to continue to monitor how the marketplace works and the new patients we may or may not see.”