The hottest ticket in Wisconsin on Tuesday was to the Paul McCartney concert at Miller Park, but the gathering of health care professionals at Madison's Crowne Plaza Hotel may have been a not-so-distant second.
More than 300 people packed into a hotel ballroom to begin to coordinate how to implement the Affordable Care Act while many more were left on a waiting list by the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute, which organized the conference.
"There are a lot of changes coming and a lot of people are going to need to know what their options are," said Donna Friedsam, who organized the event. "Right now, the effort is to clear up the misconceptions out there, let people understand what their insurance opportunities are and try to ease some of their concerns."
Open enrollment in the ACA-supported health insurance exchange begins on Oct. 1. The Wisconsin providers who will be offering coverage to consumers on that exchange will be revealed one month earlier, on Sept. 1.
It's an extremely tight deadline which conference attendees said means everyone needs to be on the same page throughout the state to ensure a smooth transition.
"Signing up for health insurance can be a confusing process, but there are a lot of great people in this state to assist people in that transition overall," said Brett Davis, Wisconsin's Medicaid director. "We have to go into operational and implementational mode. Put politics aside and do what's best for the people of Wisconsin and that's get them access to health insurance."
The conference was attended by health care advocates from all over the state. One of its goals was to come up with a unified plan for outreach and enrollment, but listening to at least one provider highlighted the daunting task ahead.
"There are so many unknowns about the program, at the federal level and at the state level," said Mari Freiberg, who runs the Scenic Bluffs Community Health Center in Cashton. Three-fourths of her patients live below the federal poverty level.
"What we anticipate happening," Freiberg said, "is some people are going to move on to the Medicaid rolls. Some people are going to move off of Medicaid. Some people are going to move into the private exchange market. What we're trying to do is support all those transitions that our patients will be making. At the same time we're trying to support education in the community to ensure everybody who lives in our area understands their options under this. It's a big task."
Friedsam said there will be daily meetings throughout the state as the deadlines get closer.
"I know there's all sorts of questions about whether we'll be ready but we are working hard and it's why 300 people are gathered her," Friedsam said. "We will be ready. We absolutely will be ready."
For more information on the Affordable Care Act, click here.