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State officials say online healthcare enrollment going smoothly

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele met with top White House officials to discuss insurance enrollment problems with the Affordable Care Act just days before a key deadline. Abele was back in Milwaukee on Thursday, December 19th with some good news for those enrolling.

Abele says the enrollment process is going smoothly and he encourages people who have been through the process to spread the word, especially since anyone who wants their coverage to start on January 1st must sign up by December 23rd.

"The web site is working smoothly and people know that there's an increasing base of people who have been covered, a lot of whom have not had coverage before," said Abele.

Despite an increase in sign ups, critics say enrollment statistics show the law is unpopular.

"Even now that they've claimed all of the bugs are worked out of the web site, we've only seen 365,000 people sign up nationwide and that's just staggering considering they need seven million people to sign up by the end date of March 31st -- so I think we can say overall the roll out and the enrollment has just been an absolute disaster," said Nick Novak with the Maciver Institute.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was also in on the White House meetings.

"The reality is, if they don't have health coverage, they're going to go to the emergency room, which is by far the most expensive way and inefficient way to deliver health care," said Barrett.

St. Joseph's Hospital in Milwaukee says 20% of the 83,000 patients treated there each year, in the state's busiest emergency room, do not have insurance.

"This means they didn't have access to preventative care or primary care and are using the emergency department as the front door for that care," said Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare President Debra Standridge.

With just a few days until the sign up deadline, Abele hopes word-of-mouth will help increase enrollment.

"Somebody telling their friend 'hey, I didn't think I could ever have insurance and now I do' and we're seeing those numbers pick up and I expect that to continue," said Abele.

The Senate also passed, on Thursday, the measure allowing around 70,000 poor and disabled Wisconsinites the keep their Badgercare insurance for another three months before transitioning into the online marketplaces.

The bill was passed in a special session of the Assembly earlier in December. Governor Scott Walker says he will sign it on Friday.