Open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) started out with a bang, with more than 600,000 people choosing plans on the federal HealthCare.gov marketplace in the first four days, according to the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

“Enrollment numbers are outpacing 2016, despite fears that reduced funding for outreach may have impacted sign-ups,” said Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden. He urged those needing to health insurance to enroll before the deadline of Dec. 15.

“Wisconsin Farmers Union’s member-driven policy affirms that access to quality health care should be a right of all people rather than a privilege,” Von Ruden noted. “Though there is room for improvement in the Affordable Care Act, the impact the marketplace has had on rural Wisconsin cannot be denied – it has been a game-changer for many family farmers who struggled to find insurance due to being self-employed or having preexisting conditions.”

Open enrollment runs through Dec. 15, allowing time for people to shop for insurance through the health insurance marketplace (www.heathcare.gov) and either renew an old plan or sign up for a new one. Eight out of 10 people are eligible for premiums under $75 thanks to financial assistance offered through the ACA. Most people who miss the Open Enrollment period will be without health insurance in 2018.

Patty and Gary Edelburg and their twins own and operate a 130-cow dairy and 450 acres of corn and alfalfa in central Wisconsin. The Edelburgs get their health insurance through the ACA, and previously were unable to get health insurance. They didn’t qualify for Badger Care, and were denied by traditional private health insurance companies because of very minor pre-existing conditions. Without the ACA, they would not have health insurance

The Edelburgs noted there are still flaws that need to be worked out within ACA – they pay $542 a month and have a $14,000 deductible for the family of four. They would have to sell cows in order to come up with that $14,000. “If we were to fully need to use our health insurance in the course of a year, we would pay over $20,000,” Edelburg said.

“There is work yet to be done to make sure the ACA truly is affordable health care for all,” Von Ruden said. “According to a health care cost analysis by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, there were strong variations in premiums and deductibles between Wisconsin and Minnesota, with consumers on the most common Silver plan paying 45 percent more annually on average in Wisconsin compared to Minnesota consumers.”

For metro areas, the second lowest cost silver plan total premiums range from 18 percent higher to more than double (144% higher) in Wisconsin, compared to the average premium in Minnesota, Citizen Action notes in the findings. These percentage differences translate into $727 to $5,676 more per person per year in premiums alone in Wisconsin depending on geography.

Citizens United joined other health care advocates and consumers in raising awareness that these rate spikes would be avoidable if Wisconsin adopts the BadgerCare Public Option bill (AB 449/SB 363), which would give Wisconsinites the option of purchasing BadgerCare on the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

Wisconsin Farmers supports a comprehensive single-payer system of health care.

Under ACA, there is a minimum penalty of $695 for not having health insurance. Luckily, free help is available for those struggling to find a plan that fits their needs. Learn more online at Healthcare.gov, visit LocalHelp.Healthcare.gov to find a nearby agent to help you enroll, or call 1-800-318-2596 to connect with a customer service representative who can help you fill out an application, review your choices and enroll.

National Farmers Union has created a portal to help provide more information. Visit www.nfu.org/GetCovered to learn more.

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Dorothy Robson is editor of the Westby Times. Contact her at 608-637-5625.

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