A major milestone passed last night, the end of open enrollment in the health insurance marketplace Healthcare.gov. We don't yet know how many in Wisconsin have signed up, but recent numbers have shown that by the end of January over 182,500 Wisconsinites signed up for health coverage, a huge increase from last year.
People want health coverage, they want that security of knowing that if anything were to happen that they'd be protected and prepared. I had the chance this weekend to ensure a number of Wisconsinites were signed up, including one couple - proprietors of a small business - who hadn't been able to afford health insurance for 10 years!
But what now? We at Citizen Action have long argued that the next phase of health reform has to move beyond the 2010 issues of coverage - we've successfully finished two open enrollments but conservatives still want to repeal these victories - and move onto the issues of cost. Issues of cost, of value, move us into larger discussions of how the health system is actually working (or perhaps isn't). And it brings not only insurance companies under the microscope but hospitals, drug companies, and more. As researchers have concluded, around a third of medical spending is actually waste with no measurable benefit and it's clear we're all paying for things we absolutely shouldn't be.
So with that in mind here are three things you can do now that open enrollment is over
1. Stay covered with the right coverage - now that open enrollment is over you can still change coverage at Healthcare.gov during the year if your address, your job, your family size or your income changes. And you may want to in order to ensure you have the most effective affordable care for you.
2. Encourage the Wisconsin State Legislature to address the issue of health costs. There are huge variations in the cost of healthcare between Wisconsin cities and between Wisconsin and Minnesota that cannot solely be explained by underlying medical costs. The State has many tools to reduce the cost of health coverage, drive innovation and increase value - from accepting funds for BadgerCare, to preventing excessive insurance rate increases, to demanding more for their buck - but currently they're doing next to nothing and you're left paying.
3. Watch the Supreme Court discussion. This year the Court will decide whether to take away the tax credits that make health insurance affordable to well over 100,000 Wisconsinites. But it's a problem with a simple solution - either Congress passes a one sentence correction to the Affordable Care Act or Wisconsin Legislature creates a state-designed marketplace similar to Healthcare.gov. Either would work but they must act soon or these politicians will be complacent in millions of Americans losing their health insurance.
It has never been easier to get health insurance - especially if you have a preexisting condition or happen to be born female - but that doesn't mean the system is fixed. The end of open enrollment should remind us that a monumental milestone in American history has taken place before our eyes as well as a fundamental shift in our view on healthcare. We have the power to guarantee quality affordable coverage for all and we will keep on.