Whitesburg KY

Residents are able to keep health plans they’d feared losing

Waiver stopped

New insurance plans took effect January 1, but many Kentuckians get to keep an old plan they thought they had lost.

Gov. Andy Beshear in his first week in office canceled a waiver of the Medicaid expansion program his predecessor Matt Bevin requested and obtained from the Trump administration. That waiver could have caused as many as 500,000 Kentuckians to lose their health insurance, health advocates said. Now, Kentuckians who would have been required to work additional hours to qualify for Medicaid, get to keep it.

Health advocates say that switch back to the way the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) worked in Kentucky four years ago will improve health outcomes, and save lives.

Mike Caudill, chief executive officer of Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation, said the corporation’s Community Health Centers saw a large increase in the number of patients after the state expanded Medicaid under former Gov. Steve Beshear. The waiver approved under Bevin had caused the clinics some concern about how many would be kicked off the Medicaid rolls.

“The bottom line is, the Affordable Care Act has allowed more than 500,000 people in Kentucky alone to get Medicaid,” Caudill said.

According to HealthInsurance.org, a Minnesota-based health reform advocacy group, the number of uninsured people in Kentucky dropped by 62 percent between the fall of 2013 and July 2018, after the ACA took effect, and the number of people receiving Medicaid alone nearly doubled. Recipients of CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) increased by 99 percent in the state.

The waiver requested by Bevin would have required non-disabled Medicaid recipients to work a minimum of 80 hours per month or participate in 80 hours per month of “community engagement” activities such as community service or job training. Similar work requirements in Arkansas caused 12,000 Medicaid recipients to lose their coverage, and upwards of 90,000 were forecast to lose coverage in Kentucky. That number could be low. The Bevin administration estimated 350,000 would be subject to the requirement. The waiver also took away dental, vision and over-the-counter drug benefits and placed them in a “My Rewards” program in which recipients would have had to earn points to receive benefits.

The law was set to take effect last year, but was delayed several times by lawsuits. Gov. Andy Beshear removed Kentucky from that lawsuit in December when he rescinded the waiver.

Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said in a statement that his organization is happy with Beshear’s decision.

“We are happy to see the rescission of work and premium payment requirements, which were potential barriers to maintaining coverage under the Medicaid program in Kentucky,” Chandler said. “Going forward, we anticipate working closely with the Administration on implementing policies that increase equitable access to high-quality preventive and other health care services that all Kentuckians need.”

Beshear said his announcement rescinding the waiver that Medicaid Expansion in Kentucky was responsible for saving more than 700 lives in Kentucky. Those figures apparently come from a study by the right-leaning National Bureau of Economic Research, in which researchers found mortality rates among lower-income, near elderly people in states that accepted the Medicaid expansion declined by 0.132 percent annually. Nationwide, this translates into 19,200 people between the ages of 55 and 64 whose lives were saved by their states’ participation in the Medicaid expansion, according to the study.

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