Federal health insurance marketplace reopens for three months

    The home page of the state's new WisCovered.com website, hosted by the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI). (Internet screenshot)

    Wisconsin residents without health insurance were able to start signing up again Monday Feb. 15 for coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

    The federal health insurance marketplace at HealthCare.gov, which is used by 36 states including Wisconsin, will remain open through May 15 under a new enrollment period that President Joe Biden authorized in an executive order he signed Jan. 28.

    Wisconsin also has a portal, WisCovered.com, that includes links to the federal health insurance marketplace as well as to free help for consumers to find out about their health insurance options, including whether they’re eligible for BadgerCare, the state’s Medicaid program for low-income residents.

    “It’s a big deal that the Biden administration is opening up the marketplace,” says Bobby Peterson of ABC for Health, a nonprofit group that provides assistance and advocacy for people seeking health care and health care coverage. The expanded opportunity to sign up can help people who lack insurance or who may have lost coverage because of losing a job.

    Peterson says the majority of people who sign up for a health insurance plan under the ACA may be eligible for a tax credit offsetting much of the cost of the insurance premium.

    Health care navigation services are free to consumers. Wisconsin’s insurance and consumer protection agencies recently warned consumers to beware of health insurance scams that might try to mislead people seeking coverage during the new enrollment period, such as charging money up front for information about their options. Consumers can verify that an insurer or agent is licensed on the website of the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) at  oci.wi.gov/Pages/ConsumersHome.aspx.

    ACA advocates are still looking to the federal government to provide new funding for health care navigators — independent organizations that provide guidance to consumers seeking coverage. “There’s very little funding out there for consumer assistance,” Peterson says.

    Regular ACA open enrollment under the Trump administration ran from Nov. 1, 2020, through Dec. 15, 2020. According to Protect Our Care, an ACA advocacy group, the outgoing administration reduced outreach for the marketplace. Nevertheless, the state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) reported that year-end 2020 enrollment was about the same as in the previous year.

    ABC for Health has posted a video to give consumers additional information on how to sign up for coverage using the federal and state websites. People who wish to sign up but don’t have an internet connection can use the Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596.

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.