UW Health's $2 Million Gift to United Way Provides Insurance Assistance

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HealthConnect, a partnership between UW Health and United Way of Dane County

Madison, Wisconsin - While the Affordable Care Act will allow many previously uninsured people to purchase health insurance, it still comes with a price.


"For some of them, this is going to be the first time that they've purchased insurance in their lives," said Leslie Ann Howard, president and CEO of United Way of Dane County.


But for approximately 7,300 individuals and families in Dane County whose income is at or just above the federal poverty level, it could still be too steep of a price - even when factoring in available government subsidies.


UW Health and the United Way of Dane County are working together to help make sure such individuals can get health insurance.


HealthConnect, a partnership made possible by a $2 million gift from UW Health, was announced on Sept. 30 - one day before the ACA's Health Insurance Marketplace opened for business.


The program will cover the health insurance premiums for Dane County residents whose annual income is between 100 and 133 percent of poverty, ranging from $11,490 to $31,325 per year. They must select the approved middle-level Silver Plan from the federal Marketplace offered by Unity Health Insurance, Dean Health Plan, Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin or Physicians Plus Insurance.


"It's an exciting new partnership with UW Health, and I'm almost breathless to think about this today," Howard said at a press conference at 1102 S. Park, the new home of clinics operated by Access Community Health Centers and UW Health.


"We are really humbled and honored to be part of it. We realize the gravity of it, we realize the complexity of it, and we want to be part of something that's going to fundamentally affect healthcare access, the quality of healthcare outcomes and the cost of healthcare. That's a pretty big statement to be able to make, and it's because of our partners at UW Health."


Howard said the $2 million contribution is the largest single gift ever made to United Way of Dane County. "So you can see why I'm shaking," she said. "Frankly, we are overwhelmed by this generosity."


Those eligible for the program will go through the Health Insurance Marketplace to purchase their plan, then apply to HealthConnect. A government subsidy will lower the cost of the premium, and HealthConnect will cover the remaining total.


"This program provides a tangible way to make a powerful difference in the lives of people who will finally have access to health insurance," said Donna Katen-Bahensky, president and CEO of UW Hospital and Clinics. "It's the right thing to do, and it offers benefits to patients, to providers and to the community at large."


Howard said the expected average cost covered will be $268 per year ($22.33 per month), for those at 116% of poverty. She said HealthConnect is funded to help 84 percent of those 7,300 county residents, or just more than 6,000 people, for one year - the program then will be re-evaluated.


"The Affordable Care Act is complicated, it is shrouded by a lot of uncertainty and it has slightly political implications," Dr. Jeffrey Grossman, president and CEO of the University of Wisconsin Medical Foundation, said - drawing laughs for the last part of that sentence. "But despite all those things, it's really the first chance this country has had to provide healthcare to virtually all of its citizens. And that's a chance that we really have to take advantage of. That's why we're so pleased to be part of this.


"We have an abiding belief that a healthier community is going to be a community that helps us steward our increasingly rare healthcare dollars well and carefully, and we think the ACA and these healthcare exchanges are one way to get to a healthier community."


The partnership is the first in the state and is believed to be one of the first in the country. "It's likely that others in the state and other places might be interested in replicating (the program)," Howard said.


While there's been a lot of work done since UW Health officials contacted Howard - "I have to tell you, honestly, I was stunned when they called," she said - the next step is to get the word out about HealthConnect.


"We're trying to work seamlessly with healthcare insurers, working with healthcare providers (and) our agency partners, who are going to be doing a lot of work for us in neighborhoods and communities to make sure people come forward and get the health insurance now that they're eligible for," Howard said.


Katen-Bahensky and Grossman were asked about the $2 million gift, and both were passionate about UW Health's role in the Madison-area community.


"UW Health has been successful thanks to this community in the last few years, and we felt like we needed to share that with others," Katen-Bahensky said.


Grossman added: "A general principle that we try to work by is doing well by doing good. We create revenue through our clinical care and when we have money left over at the end of the day, we use that revenue to support social causes, we use that revenue to support the (UW) School of Medicine and Public Health, and we use that revenue to support our community."

Date Published: 10/01/2013

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