An additional 3,966 Letcher County residents were enrolled in Medicaid last year because of Kentucky’s decision to expand the health-insurance program, according to a state government report.
Over a 20-month period ending in October 2015, these new Letcher County Medicaid recipients were responsible for bringing $22.8 million in health-care spending to the county, according to the study, conducted by the Health and Family Services Cabinet.
The document was released during the final months of the Beshear administration.
A total of 11,673 Letcher County residents were enrolled in Medicaid at the time of the report. Of that number, about a third were able to participate because the state expanded the program.
Across Kentucky, 426,000 people were participating in Medicaid because of the expansion. Their enrollment brought $2.9 billion in health-care spending to Kentucky from January 2014 to October 2015.
“We know that there are dollars flowing into every single county in the state to hospitals, doctors’ offices and clinics,” said Rich Seckel, director of the Kentucky Equal Justice Center in Lexington, which advocates on behalf of low-income residents. “That’s bound to make a difference.”
Seckel said new Medicaid rules also expand the types of services available to patients.
“The big news is that Medicaid can now support substance-abuse services for adults,” he said. “It’s a new tool in the toolkit to help folks whose futures might have looked pretty bad if they couldn’t get the help they need.”
Gov. Matt Bevin said he wants to renegotiate that state’s Medicaid arrangement with the federal government. In January, the governor said the current Medicaid expansion program was too costly for Kentucky to maintain.
“Expanded Medicaid doesn’t pay for itself,” Bevin said in his budget address to the Legislature. “Let’s dispel that myth right now.”
The federal government has paid for all expanded services so far and will provide 90 percent of the costs after 2020.
A University of Louisville researcher said the number of low-income Kentuckians who lack insurance dropped dramatically in 2014, the first year of Medicaid expansion.
“A lot more people in Kentucky are insured, and it appears to be because of the expansion,” said Joseph A. Benitez, assistant professor of health management and systems sciences at U of L.
His study found that the percentage of low-income Kentuckians who lack insurance declined from 35 percent to 11 percent in 2014.
“ When people have health insurance coverage, we would expect that they would be less dependent on the emergency room for medical care,” Benitez said. Hospitals might be able to offer more services for patients at all income levels if “they were not burdened with so many people coming into the ER,” he said.
Tim Marema is editor of DailyYonder.com, an online news platform that covers rural issues. The Daily Yonder is published by the Center for Rural Strategies, based in Whitesburg.