Thursday, January 24, 2019

Fewer Kentuckians worry about losing health insurance, and more of them are covered by employer-sponsored plans, poll finds

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

About 90 percent of Kentucky adults have health insurance and fewer of them are worrying that they might lose it, according to the latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll. It also found that the number of Kentuckians getting insurance through their employer went up, while the number of them getting it through public insurance went down, perhaps a reflection of better economic conditions.

“Health insurance coverage opens a door to the health-care system,” Dr. O’dell Moreno Owens, president and CEO of Interact for Health, which co-sponsors the poll with the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said in a news release.

“A lack of adequate insurance makes it difficult for people to get the health care they need and, when they do get care, burdens them with large medical bills,” Owens said. “People with coverage are better equipped to promote and maintain health, prevent and manage disease, and reduce unnecessary disability and premature death.”

The survey, taken by telephone Aug. 26 through Oct. 21, found that 16 percent of Kentucky adults with health insurance, or one in six, worry that they could lose their health coverage. That was down from one in four in last year's poll.

Kentucky adults with lower incomes were more likely to be concerned that they would lose coverage. The poll found that 32 percent of those earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level (those eligible for Medicaid) expressed concern, compared to 17 percent of those making between 138 percent and 200 percent of the poverty level and only 9 percent of those above 200 percent.

Some of the worries of those with lower incomes, especially if they gained their health insurance through the expansion of Medicaid to the 138 percent level, could be due to the changes to the program that are set to kick in on April 1. They will require many of them to work or do community engagement 80 hours a month, with strict reporting requirements if they want to keep their coverage. More than 18,000 people have lost coverage in Arkansas since September 2018 due to failing to meet such requirements, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. 

The poll found that the share of Kentuckians with public insurance (such as Medicaid, Medicare or veteran's benefits) in 2018 dropped to 27 percent, down from 35 percent in the prior year's poll. This number has bounced up and down generally between these two numbers since 2015. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

The share of Kentuckians with employer-provided insurance jumped to 48 percent from 39 percent last year. This rate has also bounced around since 2014, when the rate was 50 percent. Another 14 percent of Kentuckians said they either purchased their own plan, were covered by a parent's plan or another source, or weren't sure how they were covered.

In 2014, when then-Gov. Steve Beshear expanded Medicaid, the share of Kentuckians without health insurance dropped from 25 percent to 12 percent. This rate was 11 percent in the latest poll, down from 15 percent last year

About two in 10, or 19 percent, of the poll respondents said they had unstable insurance; that number has been about the same since 2015. Eight percent said they were insured, but went uninsured at some point in the past year.

The poll surveyed a random sample of 1,569 adults via landlines and cell-phones. The poll was given only to adults ages 18-64, because nearly all adults 65 and older are insured.

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