MADISON (WKOW) -- In seven weeks a federally-facilitated health insurance marketplace will open for business in Wisconsin as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
That means thousands of people who have never had insurance will have to navigate through a confusing new system.
Information has been slow in coming, but some is starting to trickle out. The Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance has put answers to frequently asked questions about the basics of the new healthcare law on its website. But there is still a lot that remains unclear.
"I thought maybe we would know by now what the rates are that will be offered in the exchanges here in Wisconsin. I think there's been a little bit of delay on that," said Mike Bare of Community Advocates Public Policy Institute, a consumer group that will try to help people figure out the new exchange.
But with no rates yet, we still don't know if the plans offered will indeed will be affordable.
"It would be more helpful if we knew the number of individuals coming off the Medicaid program at this time," said Duwayne Severson of MercyCare Health Plans in Janesville.
In Wisconsin, the number of former Medicaid enrollees seeking private insurance could be higher than most states, since Governor Walker passed on expanding the program. But again, we still don't know exactly how high.
If insurance professionals and people who hope to guide consumers through the process of enrolling in the exchange still have a lot of questions, consumers will only have more.
"I think people are gonna be overwhelmed by the amount of information and the amount of things that are new to them," said Bare, who says it will be difficult for people to go to the federal exchange website and understand what they're looking at.
The federal government is designating community groups and businesses that will be known as "navigators" to help with that.
"The navigators that are supposed to be assisting people won't be announced for another couple of days. And then they have a very short time period to get their operations up and running, to understand what the law is, get their people trained and then start actually reaching out to people," said Bare.
Several of the 13 insurance companies that are expected to participate in the individual exchange in Wisconsin are getting a head start on that by offering as much information as they can on their own websites.
"For instance, there's a subsidy calculator where a consumer can go and understand, based on their income, what they potentially may have to pay," said Kevin Hayden, CEO of Group Health Cooperative. "We've outlined all the new benefits in the program, so we've made it a one-stop shop, frankly without politics or without spin."
"Mercy Care will be offering weekly seminars in Janesville and Walworth and in Beloit to provide information to folks who have questions about the marketplace," added Severson.
Consumer advocates are advising that people definitely take advantage of that type of help.
"Get to a place where you're signed up for the best coverage that you can be signed up for, the most affordable coverage with the best benefits and in a place where you're obtaining your coverage, making payments," said Bare.
But everyone in the industry that's been paying close attention says no matter how much information is released by October 1st, it will likely be months or years before things run smoothly.
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