By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
The Affordable Health Care Act and — according to Gov. Steve Beshear — a healthier lifestyle for citizens are coming to Kentucky.
That is if opponents don’t succeed in blocking Beshear’s efforts in court.
Last week, Beshear announced Kentucky will expand Medicaid eligibility to about 308,000 low-income Kentuckians. On Wednesday, he announced a new website to promote an online marketplace to help those people determine if they’re eligible for Medicaid and for about 330,000 others without coverage to purchase health insurance, some with the benefit of tax credits or direct subsidies.
The exchange is a component of the federal health care reform — the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare as it’s known to its critics. States can set up their own or if they choose not to, the federal government will set up one for them.
David Adams, who attended the Wednesday press conference where Beshear announced the new website, has sued to block the establishment of the exchange without legislative approval. A hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday in Franklin Circuit Court.
Beshear said he isn’t concerned about the suit.
“I think it’s very clear as governor I’ve got the authority under the constitution and laws of Kentucky to implement this exchange,” Beshear said.
Adams said there is no provision in the state constitution that allows the governor to expend money which hasn’t been appropriated by the legislature. Some Republican lawmakers also question Beshear’s authority to establish the exchange without their approval.
Beshear points to a state law that allows the state to “maximize” federal funds available for such programs.
The federal government supplied a $253 million grant to help set up the exchange and Beshear said it will be “self-sufficient” through assessments on insurance companies once the federal grant expires.
He said open enrollment for individuals seeking to buy health insurance through the exchange begins Oct. 1 and continues through March 31, 2014. Banahan said the effective date of coverage is Jan. 1, 2014.
As a combined result of Medicaid expansion and the health benefit exchange, Beshear said, “quality, affordable health insurance (will be) available for the first time ever to every single citizen of the commonwealth of Kentucky.”
Small businesses of 50 or fewer employees will also be able to enroll employees beginning Oct. 1 and thereafter and those with 25 or fewer employees may qualify for tax credits to help them pay for it.
Banahan said there are four ways to enroll: online, by mailed application, by toll free phone number (1-855-4kynect) or in person
She said so far five companies, Anthem, Humana, Bluegrass Family Health, United Healthcare and The Coop, a licensed health maintenance organization or HMO, have filed notice of intent to offer plans through the exchange. They have not filed rates yet but should do so by the end of May, she said.
Banahan said she doesn’t anticipate too much difficulty in navigating the site for most people.
“We expect it to be similar to a Travelocity or Expedia shopping experience where you go online to book a flight or a room,” she said.
But the impact will be “huge,” Beshear said, noting Kentucky ranks at or near the bottom of nearly every health statistic: premature deaths, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and preventable hospitalizations.
Study after study, Beshear said, shows “a correlation between health coverage and health status.” Improving Kentucky’s overall health status will save the state money and improve its economic outlook through a healthier workforce and student population.
“We want everyone to know a healthier future for Kentucky is on the way and where to apply when open enrollment arrives,” he said.
Toward that end, the administration staff will attend community events and provide other information like a video Beshear previewed at the press conference to build awareness of the exchange before it is up and running in October.
The exchange, dubbed “kynect” (www.kynect.ky.gov) will allow about 600,000 n Kentucky to determine if they qualify for the expanded eligibility for Medicaid or shop for plans which will be offered by at least five insurance companies, according to Carrie Banahan, director of the health benefit exchange.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.