The number of Letcher County residents with health insurance has grown by more than 4,000 since 2013 as a result of the Affordable Care Act and Kentucky’s decision to expand Medicaid.
Census data shows that 4,074 Letcher residents who in the past couldn’t afford health insurance are now covered under the expanded Medicaid. Similar numbers in Kentucky’s other Appalachian counties helped the percentage of uninsured in the 5th Congressional District represented by Harold “Hal” Rogers fall from 17.1 percent in 2013 to 8.4 percent in 2014.
Meanwhile, residents still in need of health care coverage can start the enrollment process on November 1, when the 2016 open enrollment period begins. The enrollment period ends January 31, 2016.
While a check of the calendar shows that November 1 is a Sunday, at least one Letcher County health care provider will be open to serve citizens new to the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” or those who may want to check about changing their current coverage plan.
Mountain Comprehensive Health Care Corporation’s Whitesburg Medical Clinic scheduled November 1 as the opening date for its new Sunday health clinic in part to help county residents still needed to sign up for insurance policies now required by law under the Affordable Care Act.
Among those who will be on hand that day is Zachary Sturgill, who is the leading “kynector” in 18 southeastern Kentucky counties. Kynectors are the names attached to health care workers who assist citizens in signing up with “kynect,” the name of Kentucky’s Affordable Care Act program.
Since kynect was established, Kentucky has grown from three insurance companies in 2014 selling policies in the individual market on the exchange, to five carriers in 2015 to seven during the coming 2016 enrollment period. This is the largest number of carriers in the individual market in Kentucky since the late 1990s, a state news release said.
“We are near the beginning of another open enrollment period when Kentuckians can find more choices and affordable prices by shopping on kynect,” Gov. Steve Beshear said in the release. “Kentucky is the hands-down national leader in helping its people access affordable health care coverage and this year is no exception. We encourage people who are currently uninsured and those who previously purchased a plan on kynect to come back and shop again during open enrollment, because they may find a better plan for their family.”
All health plans sold on kynect will be available to preview October 16 – prior to the start of open enrollment November 1.
Last month, federal Census data reported Kentucky’s uninsured rate had declined to 8.5 percent, making it the biggest drop in the number of uninsured in the country from 2013 to 2014.
For the 2016 open enrollment, individuals who have previously purchased a qualified health plan through kynect will soon be receiving a letter in the mail advising them of the many options available through kynect for the 2016 plan year.
Depending on where an individual lives, kynect enrollees could choose from as many as seven insurance companies with expanded provider networks offering a total of 86 private health insurance plans. The insurance carriers for 2016 are Aetna, Anthem, Baptist Health, CareSource, Humana, United Healthcare and WellCare. Two insurers, Anthem and United Healthcare of Kentucky, will offer plans to residents in all 120 Kentucky counties.
One current insurer, the Kentucky Health Cooperative, has notified kynect that it will not offer plans on the exchange for 2016. Current policyholders with the Kentucky Health Cooperative will continue to be covered through their existing policies, most of which expire December 31, 2015. Policyholders with questions about their current coverage can contact the Cooperative or the Kentucky Department of Insurance (800-595- 6053). The Department of Insurance will be working with the Kentucky Health Cooperative to assure that services are delivered and current policies are honored. Questions about open enrollment should be directed to kynect.
All plans sold on kynect must offer 10 essential health benefits, including doctor visits, hospitalization and emergency care; maternity and newborn care; pediatric care, including dental and vision coverage; prescriptions; medical tests; mental health care and substance abuse treatment ; physical, speech and occupational therapy; and wellness checks. All plans must cover preventive care at no extra cost to the consumer, including flu and pneumonia shots and routine vaccinations. Plans must also cover most cancer screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopies.
In addition to announcing the dates of open enrollment, Carrie Banahan, executive director of kynect, is reminding the public that health coverage is now required by law. Those who do not obtain coverage could face a tax penalty — in addition to the personal risks associated with not having coverage.
“ Individuals who do not obtain health coverage could face significant penalties when they file their taxes – but the personal risks of not having health coverage are even greater,” Banahan said.
Individuals who need health insurance are encouraged to log on to kynect or see a kynector like Sturgill and others at MCHC.