WI Families Aren't Seeking Public Insurance Aid During Crisis

Jun 29, 2020

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MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin's jobless rate sits at 12% in the economic fallout caused by COVID-19. Health insurance gaps are expected, including for families with young children, and some worry they're not seeking enough help.

Analysts say Wisconsin has a higher than average reliance on employer-sponsored health coverage, but an estimated 260,000 people have lost theirs.

At Covering Wisconsin, navigator program manager Adam Van Spankeren says his organization's phone hasn't been ringing off the hook for enrollment help for the state's Medicaid program or insurance marketplace -- perhaps because people don't know they're eligible. "Right now, we have kind of typical numbers for this time of year," he states. "But given the impact of COVID, I would expect them to be quadruple what they are now. So, it's really concerning that people who are losing coverage may not be finding help."

From March through May, the state's Medicaid program, known as BadgerCare Plus, saw an enrollment increase of about 65,000 people, including 24,000 children. And while it's unclear how many people got coverage through the marketplace, Van Spankeren worries families that have never used these programs may not know enough about them.

William Parke-Sutherland, health policy engagement coordinator for the advocacy group Kids Forward, says it's important for parents to know that even if they don't qualify for BadgerCare Plus, there's a good chance their children will -- and health insurance has long lasting positive effects. "When children have access to health insurance, they have better educational outcomes," he points out. "They have, as adults, they have higher paying jobs, they have overall better health outcomes."

Sutherland says his organization is urging Congress to provide more emergency funding for Medicaid, because as state revenue declines, it will be a struggle to cover the expected increase in demand.

Wisconsin lawmakers also have not fully expanded BadgerCare under the Affordable Care Act -- a move Sutherland says would cover an additional 80,000 people.