DHS Secretary Andrea Palm talks Open Enrollment options along with Gov. Tony Evers, Commissioner of Insurance Mark Afable, Lt. Gov. Mandela, Barnes and Mayor Tom Barrett. (Photo courtesy CBS 58)

Out of twenty cities, former President Barack Obama visited Milwaukee to celebrate a first-place victory in his Healthy Communities Challenge back in 2016. Milwaukee signed up 38,000 of its neighbors for health coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA.)

Three years later, the numbers have drastically declined across the city and the state. Nearly 400,000 Wisconsinites, including 57,000 children, live without health insurance. Since 2015, Milwaukee’s numbers have dropped another 85,000.

As November kicks off the six-week ACA Open Enrollment period, lawmakers have made it their mission to get every single person across the state covered. Gov. Tony Evers, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Mayor Tom Barrett, the Department of Health Services (DHS) and Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) hosted a press conference at Outreach Community Health Center on Nov. 1st.

Gov. Evers said healthcare was a top priority for his administration. He said the recently passed budget made record investments in healthcare. He also noted the Republican legislature blocking Medicaid expansion in the budget, which was around $187 million less than what he called for.

The State, DHS and OCI have partnered for the first time to put state resources to towards enrolling people through the ACA.

Andrea Palm, DHS Secretary, said DHS was committed to the community partners and people in helping them understand their options and enroll in high-quality coverage. They have invested in a pool of navigators to guide those through the process. They have also created a social media and digital campaign directed towards zip codes with highest numbers of uninsured.

She also acknowledged the Milwaukee Enrollment Network and other non-profits for the work over the last six months. They have reached out to over 200,000 eligible people.

“It’s our goal for the next six weeks, to encourage people to shop and to choose plans that are in their budget and healthcare needs,” Palms said.

Evers said he has created two taskforces to work in reducing the cost of healthcare in Wisconsin. One focuses on lowering prescription drug costs, while the other centers on the caregiver shortage in the state.

“The first step in making sure folks across the state have affordable healthcare is to simply get them signed up,” Evers said. “Affordable coverage is available, and the state is here to help.”

Mark Afable, Commissioner of Insurance, said individual insurance rates were down on average compared to last year. He said that those with individual insurance plans should take a second look at their options.

“You might find something that suits your better needs or in your budget.” Afable said.

He added that there were several city-based and grassroots organizations, including Community Outreach Health Centers, to get certified help from an expert.

Lt. Gov. Barnes said the lack of affordable health care has affected communities across Milwaukee and rural areas in the state. Whether it’s Milwaukee having the highest Black infant mortality rate in the nation, or rural families traveling miles and crossing stateliness just to see the dentist, Wisconsin would be making a change.

“We’re taking our State in a positive and new direction,” Barnes said. “One that values mental and physical health for everyone that lives here.”

Open enrollment runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. Residents can visit to learn about their health insurance options. They can also get free help signing up for health insurance by calling or texting 2-1-1 to get connected with a local enrollment expert.