Kathleen Falk, the former Dane County Executive and current Regional Director of Region V of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), was in Milwaukee today to discuss the Affordable Care Act at a WisPolitics luncheon.
Speaking with WisPolitics president Jeff Mayers, Falk discussed a variety of issues relating to the new health care reform law, including Medicaid expansion, the importance of getting “young invincibles” to sign up for coverage, and the impending March 31 open enrollment signup deadline.
Falk now oversees six states – Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois – in her new role as Region V director.
While Wisconsin has not expanded Medicaid, Falk said “the numbers are so convincing” to accept the expansion, saying it will provide coverage for “84,000 people” in the state, saving the state “$119 million just in this biennium alone.”
“(Expanding Medicaid) is the most cost effective, most efficient, least cumbersome way to get people affordable health care,” she said. “That’s why so many states have done it, including, in our own region here, states just like Wisconsin where there are Republican legislatures and Republican governors. Those states have chosen to expand Medicaid, because it’s just a really good deal for a state. The governor of Ohio and the governor in Michigan really pushed through their states to get a Medicaid expansion there, and it’s not too late for Wisconsin. It’s not too late for the governor and legislature here to do that.”
Falk said despite the early troubles signing people up through HealthCare.gov, the website now is “functioning really well,” and expects another jump in enrollment as the March 31 deadline approaches.
As this deadline approaches, she said, another major challenge will be reaching a “hard to reach” demographic – the “young invincibles, the 19-35-year-olds,” she said.
“(Young people) are about 40 percent of the uninsured nationally, and Wisconsin is no different,” she said. “If you had to take a typical profile of them, they are single, more male than women, they are employed and working hard, they probably don’t have more than a high school diploma. That’s the demographic.”
Falk asked those in attendance at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Zilber School of Public Health to reach out to people in that younger demographic to talk to them about getting health care.
“In our country, we have not done a good job of educating our young people that they need health insurance,” she said.
Falk said marketing for Obamacare will be extensive in the final 47 days before the end of open enrollment.
“You’ll see more press events, more media events, more TV advertising, more radio advertising, all because there still is this tremendous amount of lack of knowledge of what the law is and what the opportunities are for people,” she said.