All hands on deck this week for ACA navigators

Caroline Gomez-Tom, navigator program manager for Covering Wisconsin, says it’s “all hands on deck” this week as ACA navigators try to do as much outreach as possible before the end of the enrollment period.

Due to the Trump administration cutting funding to navigator programs around the country, Covering Wisconsin had to reduce the counties it serves from 23 to just 12 this year. According to Gomez-Tom, that meant going from serving about two-thirds of the state population to about a third.

She says there’s been a lot of confusion in people who’ve sought help in the past few weeks. That’s in part due to insurers like Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and Molina leaving the marketplace, but also due to other factors.

Running from Nov. 1 to this Friday, this year’s open enrollment window is only half as long as last year’s. But Gomez-Tom says people are more concerned about whether Obamacare will even exist next year, and if they will still have insurance.

“The shorter period — I don’t think that is common knowledge,” Gomez-Tom told “The urgency we are really seeing are folks that think it’s going away completely… They’re hearing in the media that this could be going away.”

This confusion could stem from the individual mandate being included in the current tax proposal, Gomez-Tom notes, as many people equate the individual mandate — or other parts of the law — with the entire Affordable Care Act.

“If one thing is going away, many think the whole law is going away,” she said.

Navigators in the state have been focusing on spreading awareness about the Affordable Care Act as well as Wisconsin’s BadgerCare program.

Aside from helping people who come to get signed up through the platform, they are also reaching out to others about the options available to them, Gomez-Tom says. Working alongside various community partners, they’re spreading general education on how to understand and use health insurance benefits.

But with less than a week left for folks to sign up, even with the assistance of these partners and word-of-mouth, Gomez-Tom says: “Our fear is, will it be enough?”

She notes this year’s signups are at a higher level than at the same point last year, but with much less time remaining. More than 100,000 people had selected ACA plans as of Dec. 2, but that leaves over 140,000 to go in just 13 days to match last year.

“With that shortened window, it’s hard to see a reality where we beat those numbers,” she said.

Gomez-Tom has been a part of the navigator program in Wisconsin for the past seven years. She says there’s always a rush for people to sign up before the deadline, and this year will be no different in that regard.

“For this upcoming week, our appointments are being booked now,” she said. She notes that so far, nearly 90 percent of people who have been signing up for these appointments actually show up.

“If you ask anyone in any social service work with appointments, an 88 percent show rate is kind of unheard of,” she added.

Covering Wisconsin is holding open enrollment info sessions this week in every county the program serves. Gomez-Tom says it’s been “a very humbling year,” but navigators are doing everything they can.

“It is the last push,” she said. “We are making it happen — we are trying to make it happen at least.”

See a calendar with this week’s info sessions in Dane, Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, Kenosha, Rock, Walworth, Lafayette, Grant, Iowa, Green and Richland Counties:

Get in touch with Covering Wisconsin here:

–By Alex Moe