Wisconsin declines to advertise ACA, preferring local outreachWisconsin has a relatively high rate of health coverage compared to other states.
By: Shamane Mills, Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
Wisconsin has a relatively high rate of health coverage compared to other states. According to the most recent Wisconsin Family Health Survey, 89 percent of residents had insurance for all of 2011. Health reform is intended to to reduce the numbers of uninsured. But there's concern some of those with the worst health problems won't find — or be able to afford — coverage.
In some states, people are hearing about the Affordable Care Act in advertisements on TV or radio. Minnesota is spending $9 million on a media campaign. One ad features Paul Bunyan needing medical attention after getting injured while waterskiing.
The 17 states that set up their own exchanges have been running public awareness campaigns for months. Wisconsin refused to set up an exchange of its own. Instead, the federal government is running it.
Dan Schwartzer is Wisconsin's deputy insurance commissioner. He says the state isn't spending money or running ads, instead deciding to rely on local outreach. “We don't think advertising is going to work. I think this is going to work a lot better, when you're at that local level.”
Milwaukee's Health Commissioner Bevan Baker says he would have liked to see billboards and broadcast public service announcements. But, he says, grassroots campaigns can be just as effective. “You know, good news travels fast. And when people see that there's something good that's going to help them or their loved ones, they may share that information in the oldest form of communication known: person to person.”
Wisconsin is providing $55 million among local organizations, like community health centers and public health departments, to get the word out. This local outreach got the attention of James Ivory Travis. The unemployed 32-year-old was at the Dane County Jobs Center for training when officials mentioned health insurance and how to sign up for it. “I heard about the marketplace and everything. They was like, 'You can stop in room 16 and find out more about it then.' And that's what I did.”
Travis hasn't signed up for coverage because he doesn't know what he can afford yet on unemployment benefits. He has asthma and is eager to regain coverage; his most recent job had health insurance. “I take a daily maintenance inhaler and then a rescue inhaler. I also take allergy medicine and stuff like that, because ... allergies and asthma is kind of tied together. But the treatments — some of those inhalers, like the one I take every day, cost like $300 without insurance.”
When he worked, Travis says he made too much to qualify for BadgerCare. His situation is different now, however, and the state has made changes to the program which will help extremely poor individuals at the poverty line or below.
At the same time, the state plans to kick thousands with slightly higher incomes off BadgerCare. The Walker Administration estimates upwards of 90 percent will transition to the marketplace to buy private insurance, but advocates warn they may not be able to afford premiums.
Furthermore, advocates say, having parents on private insurance and their kids on public insurance is complicated. Bobby Peterson runs the nonprofit ABC for Health. Before the marketplace went live, he held a seminar for all those doing local outreach. “[Talk] about stacking the deck against these folks. Yeah, it's great that they have coverage, but when it's so complicated ... it just makes it really challenging for these parents to navigate these multiple bureaucracies”
Over the years, there had been a push to make BadgerCare more accessible and easier to use. Now some see barriers being put back up, at a time the nation is trying to get as many people insured as possible.