TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

State News

April 4, 2014

Healthcare signup in state extended

CORBIN — By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service

While the national health exchange established by the Affordable Care Act — known to some as Obamacare — suffered glitches, crashes and delays, the Kentucky-run exchange, Kynect, was often used as a national model.

Nevertheless, those in Kentucky who didn’t sign up before the March 31 deadline will have a second chance to enroll.

Kentucky enrolled more than 370,000 people signed up for health coverage through privately purchased plans or through expanded Medicaid rolls, about 8.6 percent of the state’s total population, when the enrollment period ended at midnight on March 31.

Around 12,000 signed up on that day alone, according to Gov. Steve Beshear’s office. Traffic was heavy enough that the administration believes some prospective enrollees may have had trouble completing applications on the final day of enrollment.

So, Kynect will go along with the extension of enrollment which President Barack Obama announced for the national exchange.

Anyone who attempted to sign up but was unable to for some reason may still purchase health insurance and enroll beginning Friday through April 11.

“We are thrilled with the level of interest and enrollment that we’ve seen for our first open enrollment period,” said Carrie Banahan, Kynect executive director.

Banahan said the goal for Kynect was always to enroll anyone who needed but couldn’t afford health insurance — even if that now means extending by a week the enrollment period.

“In order to make sure everyone who tried to start or file an application (Monday) has a chance to do so, there will be a special enrollment period from April 4 to midnight April 11,” Banahan said. “We strongly encourage those who started applications to complete them as soon as possible to reduce possible wait times toward the end of the grace period.”

Nationally more than 7 million people and small businesses have signed up for coverage, according to the Obama administration which last week announced it would extend its enrollment period as well because of late demand.

Under the law, those who do not have insurance after the enrollment period – either through privately acquired or employee provided insurance or under provisions of the new law – will face a fine of $95 or 1 percent of their annual income.

The implementation of the law was beset by major problems with the nationally-operated online health exchange, forcing the Obama administration to scramble to fix the problems while opponents of the law pointed to the problems as proof the law would fail. But at the same time, Beshear made enrollment of as many of Kentucky’s estimated 640,000 uninsured as possible a priority – in spite of Republican opposition in the state Senate.

Obama often pointed to Kentucky as an example of the way the law was supposed to work, while Republicans in the state Senate complained Beshear by-passed the legislature and implemented the expansion of Medicaid to those making 138 percent of the federal poverty line and establishment of Kynect without legislative approval.

Beshear could do so because the federal government pays nearly all of the costs for the first three years of the law. The Democratic governor – who heads a conservative state which Obama twice lost by more than 20 points — said two independent analyses concluded the law would save Kentucky money in the long run.

Now, as Beshear enters the last half of his second term, health care is seen as his most likely enduring legacy — depending on whether it succeeds. He says it will and early data seem to support his contention.

Critics are quick to point out that 293,802 of the 370,829 who had signed up as of Mar. 31 qualified for expanded Medicaid coverage while only 77,027 purchased private insurance. But perhaps that’s not too surprising given Kentucky’s status as a poor and unhealthy state.

Kynect is reporting that half of those who signed up are under the age of 35. One third who purchased private plans are younger than 35.

That’s important because for the plan to work it needs a lot of young, healthy people to buy coverage in order to subsidize premium costs for older and general less healthy individuals who will cost insurance companies more in paid out benefits.

Kynect officials are also estimating that 75 percent of enrollees previously had no health insurance coverage.

Anyone who still wishes to shop for coverage during the week-long extension period can call the Kynect call center at 1-855-4kynect or search www.kynect.ky.gov to find assistance with enrollment.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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