Advocates warn not to wait until the last minute.
Vik Vermill of Merrill was working for the east Texas chapter of the progressive political group Organizing for Action in 2016 as it was rallying support behind the Affordable Care Act.
“At that time it was more hypothetical for me because I had employer-based insurance but I was concerned about [healthcare access] for other people,” he said.
Then in 2017, the hypothetical became real for Vermill. He was laid off from his job on Jan. 7. On Feb. 17, he was in a car accident that broke his hip, his ankle, caused lung issues, sepsis, and blood clots, any one of which could have killed him. He spent weeks in the hospital and in physical therapy.
The total bill for his care was $450,000. But because he had signed up for health insurance through the ACA marketplace, his out-of-pocket total was $3,500.
“It saved my finances, it saved my health, it saved my life,” Vermill said. “It gave me peace of mind I would not have otherwise had.”
Vermill shared his story on Monday at a virtual event hosted by Protect Our Care, a healthcare advocacy organization, to remind people that the deadline to enroll in the ACA this year is Dec. 15.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who has been a longtime advocate for expanding access to health care, also spoke about the importance of getting coverage particularly with COVID-19 spreading across the state.
“During this deadly pandemic, I want every Wisconsinite to have access to quality, affordable healthcare,” Baldwin said.
In addition to the ACA’s website, Healthcare.gov, Wisconsin has its own website, Wiscovered.com, which provides assistance with Wisconsin-specific plans and is available in Spanish and Hmong. But attorney Lillian Cheesman of Milwaukee, who has had her own private practice for years and relied on the ACA for her health insurance, warned people not to wait until the last minute to enroll.
“It’s really frustrating that we have such a short window,” she said. “I’m a lawyer and I don’t understand all the insurance terms… Don’t wait until Dec. 15 because guess what? Those [enrollment assistance] phone lines are going to be jam-packed on Dec. 15.”
Cheesman has a chronic health condition that requires monitoring and care. When she first signed up for the ACA she had a handful of affordable options for her level of care. This year, because more insurers have joined the Wisconsin marketplace, she initially found 50 and has now whittled it down to 14.
“The Affordable Care Act has been a lifesaver for me,” she said. “It’s made it really possible for me to run my own business and not worry about how I’m going to get the healthcare I need for me and my family.”
For 2020, slightly fewer than 200,000 Wisconsinites signed up for health insurance through the ACA. But Organizing for Action estimates only about 70,000 people have signed up so far for 2021. Organizing for Action representatives feared that may be due to the shortened enrollment period.