Thursday, June 9, 2016

Kynectors, health advocates ask state to maintain staffing and other resources in new health-insurance enrollment system

As the administration of Gov. Matt Bevin works toward dismantling Kynect, the state's health insurance exchange, health advocates say they worry that the transition is going too quickly to be smooth, risking a loss of coverage for some Kentuckians.

Kentucky Voices for Health, a coalition of groups supporting health-care reform, said June 9 that the administration needs to "keep, hire and train adequate staff," make eligibility decisions quickly, "dedicate enough resources to educate the public on how to enroll," publish its plan and allow time for comment, and "create an online dashboard to measure how well the system is functioning."

The group also wants the administration to extend the transition period, saying that no state has made such a transition so quickly.

“To be successful, we need to take our time and make absolutely sure we’re protecting consumers from gaps in coverage," KVH Executive Director Emily Beauregard said. "By . . . taking more time to complete the transition, Kentucky can keep more of its people covered with access to essential care."

Whitney Allen, coordinator of community development and outreach for the Kentucky Primary Care Association, said in the KVH news release, “These recommendations are key to fostering a culture of continuous improvement focused on the consumer experience.”

Keeping a campaign promise, Bevin decided to shift Kentuckians enrolling in private, federally subsidized health insurance via Kynect to the federal exchange,, and Medicaid recipients to Benefind, the state's new one-stop website for state benefits, by Nov. 1.

This new model for subsidized insurance is a federally supported but state-based marketplace, in which the federal government will handle consumers' eligibility appeals but the state will handle insurance-company grievances and still review insurance plans. The federal government will certify the plans but it will "strongly rely" on state recommendations, Health Secretary Vickie Glisson said in March. Consumer grievances will be handled by a state-federal partnership.

Kentucky Voices for Health said it wants "to ensure that any enrollment system that will replace Kynect works as well or better to ensure all Kentuckians have access to coverage without interruption or barriers."

Bevin's office replied to the KVH release with this statement: "Throughout the process, we have updated stakeholders and listened to their feedback. We appreciate the continued interest, input and cooperation of advocates as they are an important component of our communications and outreach strategy during the transition from Kynect to We are pleased to report that Kentucky has met all milestones and deliverables, some ahead of schedule, that were established by the [federal] team in order to proceed with the transition to"
KVH continued to emphasize the importance of Kynectors, a blanket term used for those who help Kentuckians apply for and enroll in coverage. The state has about 600 Kynectors, but their fate is uncertain.

“Research indicates that Kentucky consumers find insurance overwhelming and confusing, and value the face-to-face assistance they have received to navigate the system,” Dr. Susan Buchino of the Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky, said in the KVH release. The institute, part of the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences, calls itself a "transdisciplinary collaborative for population health improvement, policy and analytics."

KVH said the Bevin administration recently agreed to its request to have a diverse, multi-stakeholder advisory committee like the one that helped create Kynect.

The group said its recommendations came from Kynectors and health advocates, "many of whom have hands-on experience with enrollment and consumer assistance." Click here for the full report.

Forbes magazine contributor Josh Archambault wrote June 7 that Bevin is right to end Kynect because it serves mainly as a funnel to the Medicaid program and is funded by a fee on all health-insurance policies sold in Kentucky.

At least part of the fee will remain in place to help pay transition costs, fund the Kentucky Health Information Exchange and cover remaining claims to the high-risk insurance pool for which the fee was originally established. It was transformed into Kynect funding by an executive order from then-Gov. Steve Beshear.

"Kynect’s website will actually be active until the end of 2017, as the site also services small-business plans which have no set open-enrollment season," Archambault notes.

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