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Enrollment on the Affordable Care Act exchange begins Tuesday for health insurance next year, and Wisconsin’s Office of the Commissioner of Insurance has a message for the more than 37,000 residents expected to lose their current coverage because their carriers are leaving the exchange.

“The consumer does not have to accept the health insurance plan that (the federal government) has auto-enrolled them into,” Jennifer Stegall, senior policy adviser for the insurance commissioner’s office, said Thursday.

An estimated 37,160 of the 224,208 people in Wisconsin who get insurance on the exchange won’t be able to continue their same coverage next year, the insurance commissioner’s office said last week.

Those people can choose a new plan by Dec. 15 in order to have coverage in January. If they don’t, the federal government will automatically enroll them in a plan.

State insurance commissioner Ted Nickel has criticized the “auto-enrollment” policy, saying a consumer’s information will be sent from one insurer to another without the consumer’s consent.

Nickel is urging people to opt out of “auto-enrollment” and shop for other insurance on or off the exchange. He organized seven town hall meetings around the state to deliver the message this week and next month, including a sparsely attended meeting Thursday at Madison Area Technical College.

While some companies in Wisconsin are exiting the exchange next year, including Physicians Plus in Dane County, many are staying and some are joining the exchange. Three carriers will be available in Dane County: Dean Health Plan, Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin and Unity Health Insurance.

In all, 15 companies will be participating in Wisconsin, the most of any of the 38 states that use the federal exchange, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The exchange is at healthcare.gov.

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Premiums for Wisconsin plans on the exchange will increase an average of 16 percent next year, according to the insurance commissioner’s office. Nationally, premiums for mid-level health plans will increase about 25 percent.

The federal government says most consumers won’t have to face steep hikes because the vast majority get tax credits to help pay premiums and consumers can shop around for cheaper plans.

Of the more than 224,000 Wisconsin residents insured through the exchange as of March, 85 percent received tax credits to reduce their costs. The average monthly premium of $455 was reduced to $125 for those with tax credits.

Another 51,000 Wisconsin residents who are paying full price for health insurance off the exchange could be eligible for tax credits on the exchange, the federal government said.

In addition, about 84,000 of the 353,000 people who are uninsured in the state could get tax credits on the exchange, said Donna Friedsam, health policy programs director at the UW Population Health Institute.

About 124,000 of the uninsured are eligible for Medicaid or BadgerCare, Friedsam said.

The vast majority of working-age people in the state get health insurance through employers.

The annual increase in premiums and deductibles for employer coverage has been lower since the Affordable Care Act was adopted in 2010 than in previous years, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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