Bevan Baker Updates On ACA Exchanges Enrollment

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Bevan Baker Updates On ACA Exchanges Enrollment

Premiere Date: 
October 11, 2013

The Milwaukee Health Commissioner gives an update on the health insurance exchanges.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

But first, more than 120,000, one in seven. That's how many people in Milwaukee County under the age of 65 lack health insurance. Zero. That's how many Milwaukeeans have been able to sign up for health insurance under the federal healthcare website. The site, now at the close of its second week of operation, has been overloaded. That proves there is immense interest in the program, says the Milwaukee Health Commissioner. Bevan Baker joins us now for a status update on ACA sign-up in Milwaukee. And Commissioner, thanks very much for doing so.

Bevan Baker:

Thank you for having me.

Frederica Freyberg:

So what has been the experience of the Public Health Department in trying to enroll people in this marketplace?

Bevan Baker:

Well, let me first say that demand has been tremendous, and we expected that, and we've been the getting equipped and ready for this for many months. However, there have been challenges. It's well known that there were computer glitches, and it's well known that there are many people in our county and city who need these services. So we're struggling, but we are optimistic that we will get Affordable Care implemented in Milwaukee.

Frederica Freyberg:

When you describe demand, give us a little more information. I mean, has there been foot traffic into the Health Commissioner's office or in places around the county, where people are stationed to try to help people or what does that look like?

Bevan Baker:

Well, we saw overwhelming foot traffic the first week and we know that 8.6 (million) Americans tried to get online and get into the Affordable Care network in those first several days. We're getting daily double-digit calls. We seen nearly 100 people walk into our satellites around the city. So the volume is brisk. However, our counselors and those who work on this are in daily contact with individuals trying to let them know, you will get enrolled.

Frederica Freyberg:

I think you left off the word "million" in your last response. You said 8.6, but it's 8.6 million people have now tried to go online across the country?

Bevan Baker:

Well, it was 8.6 million during that first several days. We know that that was more people than go to the Southwest Airlines website in an entire month. So that gives you an indication of the volume.

Frederica Freyberg:

What concerns do you have that people once having made the effort to sign up, that they'll get frustrated and that will prevent them from kind of returning to seal the deal?

Bevan Baker:

Well, let me first say, this is one of the most significant advances in the public health systems in our lifetime. People have waited decades to get access to affordable care. Certainly these are not going to stop someone who doesn't have health insurance from trying again and again. We will be there when the system opens. We will be ready for the floodgates.

Frederica Freyberg:

Is there a certain point at which, I've talked with some providers who are also in the marketplace, who are saying perhaps the time is coming to go to a paper application?

Bevan Baker:

Well, let me say this. From the father of a 1st grader, who can use a iPad better than me, we can't go back. These are digital glitches. Even the Apple iPhone had some problems when it was rolled out a few months ago. We can get over this, and we will get over this.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, you talk about how significant this is in the public health realm. What does it mean to your city to have potentially a portion of these 120,000 uninsured be able to get some kind of coverage through this marketplace?

Bevan Baker:

Well, the first thing it's going to do, it's going to save lives. It's going to protect the most valuable thing that we have in human existence, one's life. The other thing it's going to do is lower cost. The whole healthcare delivery system is going to be better off if we can get people covered, so they won't use the most expensive care, which is emergency department care.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, I know that there are concerns that those over the poverty line receiving BadgerCare under its new eligibility rules in the state of Wisconsin may not be able to actually afford these plans in the private marketplace. So what are you telling people about that?

Bevan Baker:

Well, it's certainly a concern, and I think the state of Wisconsin made some decisions relative to accepting money from the feds and the BadgerCare population, about 92,000 of those individuals, are going to be impacted. What we are doing is counseling them. We're making certain they can navigate the system. And there are navigators who are going to help. This is a long process. It's going to take some time, but we're going to work hand in hand with those individuals at risk.

Frederica Freyberg:

What if the navigators, though, and have you yourself been able to get deep enough into the system to compare these plans, to get a sense for, say, you know, citizen A that is at this poverty level or this percentage over it, would qualify for these kinds of subsidies? Have you been able to get in that detail.

Bevan Baker:

I know that my staff, and we have about 13 new people that we hired who are doing just that. They've gotten to those windows that show some of the comparisons. They have not yet been able to enroll individuals, but this is consumerism at its best. People are going to be able to make informed choices. Our role in public health is to make certain that we're here to guide them through those choices.

Frederica Freyberg:

And give me some sense, again, of who is kind of up and operating in Milwaukee to try to help guide these people through these choices?

Bevan Baker:

Well, I think that Milwaukee Enrollment Network, which include representatives from our health systems, the largest health systems, qualified health centers, primary care entities, and many who have been advocating for the public's health for decades, they're on the ground. They've been waiting for this. And if I could use the football vernacular, this is their super bowl, and they must win, and we can win as a state, if we continue working with those who are at risk.

Frederica Freyberg:

Do you feel as though Milwaukee might be at the forefront of kind of embracing this opportunity?

Bevan Baker:

Well, I think we always are going to be at the forefront of changing this population's health and making Wisconsin once again the healthiest state in America. If we get access to everyone who needs it, then their health status is going to be better, and we can move Wisconsin back into being the healthiest state in the nation. That's why I'm excited about the Affordable Care Act and its implementation.

Frederica Freyberg:

What words of advice might you give, as the Commissioner of Public Health in Milwaukee, to those that might be frustrated at this point with not being able to get online or even get through on online, or even get through on the phone to see what's available to them?

Bevan Baker:

Well, what I would say to those who are frustrated now is that there is nothing more valuable than advocating for one's health. If you have to jump through a few hoops to get that affordable care and to get access, then jump through hoops, because your body will be happy later if you jump now.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. Bevan Baker, thank you very much.

Bevan Baker:

Thank you.


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