FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Saying the COVID-19 pandemic reinforced the necessity for accessible health care, Gov. Andy Beshear marked a milestone Friday for Kentucky's relaunched health insurance exchange — where consumers now can shop for health coverage for the coming year.
Kentuckians can find out if they qualify for Medicaid and compare private plans on the state’s health care marketplace on the web portal, known as kynect, ahead of the enrollment period that begins Nov. 1. Open enrollment for existing recipients of Medicaid started Friday.
In a state with high rates of cancer and other diseases, the portal signed up hundreds of thousands for health coverage before it was shut down by the previous governor.
Beshear had already relaunched the state-run portal and Friday marked the first day that consumers could go on the website to review coverage plans for 2022.
“People deserve easy access to information about their health plans and their benefits,” Beshear said. “It shouldn’t be hard to secure something that keeps you healthy and, in a pandemic, alive.”
The need for quality health care has never been more apparent than during the COVID-19 public health crisis, the governor said during a virtual news conference.
“Everybody, no matter what side of the aisle we are on, now ought to believe that there ought to be a path to secure health care for everyone," Beshear said. "It’s not red or blue, it’s not Democrat or Republican. What we’ve seen is it’s life versus death.”
The Democratic governor was joined by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in promoting kynect, which offers a centralized place for Kentuckians to apply for health insurance coverage and other benefits. Becerra touted the value of state-based marketplaces.
“The value of having it be locally born and bred is that it can be tailored to meet the needs of that particular community," he said.
The portal will allow Kentuckians to apply for health coverage and complete enrollment on one platform.
In addition to Anthem’s statewide coverage and CareSource, which offers plans in 100 counties, consumers can shop for plans available in select counties from two new health insurers: Ambetter from WellCare of Kentucky and Passport Health Plan by Molina, the governor said. Plans also will be offered by Aetna and United Healthcare.
Mia Anderson, among the network of staffers helping people apply for benefits on the kynect website, recalled a woman who enrolled for insurance. It was the first time the woman gained coverage since her adult daughter, who accompanied her to sign up, had been much younger.
“These are personal stories and personal struggles, when you see face to face, you cannot deny the need and the right that we should have affordable health care coverage for everyone," Anderson said at the news conference. "I see, every day, hard-working people who pay their bills, do everything they can to make it every day, but do that by skipping health care coverage.”
Beshear's family has a deep connection to the state-based initiative.
His father, former Gov. Steve Beshear, launched kynect in 2013 as a state-run exchange where people could shop for health insurance plans under the federal Affordable Care Act, but it was dismantled by Matt Bevin, the Republican governor who followed.
Bevin said it was too costly and that Kentuckians could use the federal website to buy health insurance. Andy Beshear unseated Bevin in the 2019 election.
The return to the state-based marketplace is expected to save Kentuckians at least $15 million a year, Andy Beshear said. Kentuckians who buy commercial health plans through the federal site pay a surcharge on premiums, which will not continue with the state-based marketplace, he said.
The state got $650,000 in federal pandemic assistance to help with the reopening, he said.
Steve Beshear used an executive order to expand Medicaid coverage while he was governor. His order increased Kentucky’s Medicaid rolls by hundreds of thousands, many getting coverage for the first time. That led to a dramatic drop in the Bluegrass State's uninsured rate. Medicaid is the government health plan for low-income people and those with disabilities.
The latest statistics, from 2019, indicated about 280,000 Kentuckians still lacked health insurance coverage, Andy Beshear said Friday.
“We’re going to work to get everybody signed up,” he said. “That’s going to be our goal. And we’re going to keep going until we get there.”
The web portal should now have “better reach and exposure,” the governor said, because it has an expanded role to guide people seeking help from an array of assistance programs. And recognition of the kynect brand survived even in the years it was dismantled, Beshear said.
“People still know it and trust it,” the governor said.
The kynect website is kynect.ky.gov.