New state portal aims to help consumers find health coverage

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

    Wisconsin this week rolled out a new website to guide consumers who may be seeking health insurance.

    The resource, WisCovered.com, is starting up as hundreds of thousands of state residents have been left jobless as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and may be in search of new health care coverage. The website, set up by the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI), includes links to a variety of resources to help users learn more about their health insurance options. The rollout included the debut of a public service video announcement featuring Lt. Gov. Mandela  Barnes.

    WisCovered.com is important right now because we know that lots of folks get health insurance through their job,” says Olivia Hwang, OCI public affairs director.

    Resources on the website include links to free telephone counseling on health insurance alternatives through the nonprofits Covering Wisconsin or the United Way’s 211 service, depending on where they live, says Hwang.

    WisCovered.com also provides a link to Healthcare.gov, which  offers individual and family insurance policies to consumers under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), the law that President Barack Obama signed in his first term to expand health insurance coverage.. Additionally, it has links to inform consumers about enrolling in Medicare if they are 65 or older and enrolling in BadgerCare, Wisconsin’s version of the federal Medicaid plan that offers health coverage for low-income people. It also will assist people who have been laid off and are eligible to continue on their former employer’s health insurance while paying for it themselves, under the federal law known as COBRA.

    For people who have lost their job, especially with the pandemic, “they might not know about all the options available to them for health insurance – from COBRA to enrolling in an individual plan or getting BadgerCare Plus,” says Hwang. “WisCovered.com answers some common questions we’ve heard about who can get insurance and how to get it.”

    The site is optimized for mobile phone access for smartphone users lacking computer or internet access, according to OCI.

    WisCovered.com grew out of a collaboration Gov. Tony Evers established involving OCI and a Health Care Coverage Partnership Marketing Workgroup, led by OCI and the state Department of Health Services (DHS). Other participants in the workgroup include nonprofit organizations as well as insurance companies: ABC for Health Inc. and its subsidiary, HealthWatch Wisconsin,  Common Ground Healthcare Cooperative, Covering Wisconsin, Dean Health Plan, Milwaukee Enrollment Network, Milwaukee Health Care Partnership, Next Step Insurance and Quartz Health Benefit Plans.

    ABC for Health Executive Director Bobby Peterson says that under the administration of President Donald Trump, federal agencies “are not great partners or supporters of consumer outreach and education for the [federal Health Care] Marketplace,” and that WisCovered.com is an attempt to start filling that gap.

    My hope is that this is a first step toward greater opportunities to inform, help direct and assist consumers across Wisconsin in a meaningful way,” says Peterson.

    His own organization had a contract that began under Gov. Jim Doyle in 2010 to provide federally funded assistance for health insurance consumers. Gov. Scott Walker ended that program after taking office in January 2011.

    “After nearly a decade without the Consumer Assistance grant/service, we still need direct consumer support and problem resolution help,” Peterson says.

    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.