Advocates encourage a second look at insurance plans as open enrollment starts in Wisconsin

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MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin residents can start shopping for coverage on the federally run health insurance exchange when its second open enrollment period begins Saturday. Here are some things to know as consumers consider their options for 2015:


WHO SHOULD SIGN UP?

The online marketplace is meant for people who aren't covered by employer-offered insurance plans or government programs, such as Medicare and BadgerCare, the state's Medicaid program. The marketplace offers subsidized private insurance for single people earning about $47,000 or less per year and families with incomes of up to $128,000.

About 166,000 Wisconsin residents signed up for insurance during the open enrollment period that ended March 31, according to the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance.

Health care experts say signups probably won't increase this year because there wasn't a greater outreach effort. Wisconsin received only $2.6 million in federal outreach grants last year and will get less than $1 million this year.


PRICES AND DEADLINES

People who bought insurance through the marketplace last year should take another look now, according to Bobby Peterson, executive director of ABC for Health, a nonprofit Madison law firm that helps people get health care. Plans, premiums and subsidies have changed, and they might find a better deal.

The Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance has not yet released data on the average cost of this year's plans, but consumer can find prices for specific plans at https://www.healthcare.gov/ .

Open enrollment continues until Feb. 15, but people must enroll by Dec. 15 to have coverage at the beginning of 2015.


WALKER'S GOAL

Republican Gov. Scott Walker has set a goal of reducing the number of uninsured residents by about 225,000 people during a two-year span that ends June 30. It's not clear how close he is in achieving that goal because surveys estimating the number of uninsured lag by a year or two; it likely won't be known until at least 2016.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated in September that 518,000 Wisconsin residents, or 9 percent of the population, lacked insurance in 2013. That was better than the national average of 14.5 percent.

The state generally relies on a survey done by the University of Wisconsin, which most recently put the number of uninsured residents at 400,000 in 2012.


BADGERCARE

Walker and Republican lawmakers also tightened eligibility requirements for BadgerCare, which insures children and low-income adults. About 75,000 adults who earn slightly more than the federal poverty level were removed from the program on March 31. But at the same time, 83,000 childless adults who previously lacked coverage were added.

Walker intended for adults who lost coverage to buy subsidized insurance through the online marketplace last spring, but the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families estimates fewer than 19,000 did.

About 794,000 people, roughly half of them children, were covered by BadgerCare in October. That compares to about 739,000 in March before the changes took place, and 752,000 in October 2013, according to the state Department of Health Services.

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