President Obama to speak at UCC in Milwaukee Thursday, director says "we're ready"

MILWAUKEE -- A community center on Milwaukee's south side will host President Barack Obama on Thursday, March 3rd. President Obama is visiting Milwaukee because the city won the White House's "Healthy Communities Challenge."

The United Community Center has been open for 46 years. The center's executive director says they've never had to plan for something quite like this.

Milwaukee won the 20-city race to get health care coverage for the previously uninsured -- netting the presidential visit with the win.

"It`s really important, as a symbol of our community, that our president is coming to their neighborhood," Richardo Diaz, UCC executive director said.

Diaz said UCC officials learned on Monday, February 29th that President Obama would be coming on Thursday.

"They called us and said `is your facility available?` and then they said `we`d like to host him here,'" Diaz said.

Richardo Diaz, UCC executive director

The visit will be a celebration of Milwaukee outperforming 19 other cities in the race to enroll people for health insurance.

Heather Dummer Combs coordinated the push for the Milwaukee Enrollment Network.

"We have an outstanding group of over 160 enrollment assistants that are fully certified and trained and capable of assisting people and answering their questions and helping them," Dummer Combs said.

Heather Dummer Combs

Dummer Combs said those assistants helped enroll 38,000 out of a pool of about 51,000 eligible people. She credits more than 100 partners -- local health departments, social service organizations and the group "Covering Wisconsin."

"They really did a lot of the heavy lifting in holding events in the community on the weekends and in the evenings to try to target as many people in the community as possible," Dummer Combs said.

Bruce-Guadalupe Middle School

The result: A visit from President Obama.

Diaz said even with the short notice, the UCC is set for Thursday.

"I think, quite frankly, every day we`re ready, whether it`s the president or really, Hispanics in this community, we treat them like presidents," Diaz said.

President Obama will be speaking at the middle school on the UCC campus -- Bruce-Guadalupe Middle School.

Between the new enrollees and those who are returning, the city says about 89,000 residents are signed up for insurance through the health exchange.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele issued this statement on President Obama's visit to Milwaukee:

In advance of President Barack Obama’s visit to Milwaukee this Thursday to celebrate the metro area winning the White House Healthy Communities Challenge, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele is highlighting the critical role the County played in providing significant staff, funding, and resources that have helped thousands of individuals get access to affordable healthcare.

Under Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele’s leadership, Hector Colon, director of Milwaukee County’s Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS), led the charge for the County in ensuring that more people have coverage. The County funds Impact 2-1-1, a social service community hotline, to provide accurate information about healthcare benefit options to individuals looking for help. IMPACT 2-1-1 also provides over-the-phone screening to help make appropriate referrals to enrollment assistance. The County also ran signage advertising this information every day during the open enrollment period on all 200 County-owned and managed buses.

In addition, the County has trained nearly 70 staff members to help clients understand where to go and how to get services through ACA exchanges, including four Certified Application Counselors (CACs), an intake service manager, and two administration coordinators. This staff directly enrolled more than 1800 individuals through programs at the County. Winged Victory, a program funded by the county executive, was also developed to assist individuals with disabilities in applying for benefits and other assistance for which they are available.

“The Affordable Care Act is working, and thanks to President Obama, the Milwaukee area is getting healthier every day,” County Executive Chris Abele said. “I’m thrilled to welcome the President to Milwaukee County so he can see firsthand how our broad coalition of healthcare partners has worked together to help people in our community get the coverage they need to live stronger, fuller, healthier lives. I also want to thank my partners on the County Board and the many Milwaukee County employees whose hard work helped make it possible for our community to win the White House Healthy Communities Challenge."

Recognizing that racial and ethnic minorities are statistically less likely to have access to affordable, comprehensive healthcare, the County took several steps to help ensure full minority inclusion, such as collaboration with, and funding for, community groups like the Black Health Coalition. The Black Health Coalition has done education and outreach at churches, schools, and at-risk facilities around the County, with an added focus on the City's north side. In addition, the County has partnered with Latino community organizations like Centro Hispano that enhanced outreach and took the lead on the production and dissemination of bilingual literature and educational information.

The Disability Services Division at DHHS funded the Restorative Justice Collective for ACA outreach efforts, including canvasses to thousands of households to inform them about health insurance coverage and phone calls and mailings to County households most likely to be eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

And at the Milwaukee County House of Correction, nearly 500 inmates so far have been enrolled in insurance through the Affordable Care Act, just since February of 2015. We believe the House is the first, if not only, correctional institution to take this proactive step to helping individuals enroll in healthcare. For many of these individuals it's the first time they've had health insurance. Affordable, comprehensive healthcare is a critical component in these individuals’ participation in other supportive programming offered through the House of Correction, such as AODA treatment, mental health counseling, and peer counseling, that empowers them to live a better life and makes them less likely to reoffend in the future.

These investments are important to the overall health and well-being of our community. However, they have the added benefit of saving taxpayer dollars. To date, Milwaukee County has saved approximately $2 million as a result of the Affordable Care Act.