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Advocate: Kentucky Medicaid Enrollment a "Real Mess"

Health-care advocates say Kentucky's transition to a single system to qualify people for Medicaid and other programs has led to long waits for help and enrollment problems. (Greg Stotelmyer)
Health-care advocates say Kentucky's transition to a single system to qualify people for Medicaid and other programs has led to long waits for help and enrollment problems. (Greg Stotelmyer)
March 23, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. - A "real mess." That's how one health-care advocate describes Kentucky's transition to a single system to determine eligibility for health insurance and other social services.

People who depend on kynect – the state health-insurance exchange that was hailed as a model for the nation – have been especially concerned about the transition, although Gov. Matt Bevin's office said his plans to dismantle kynect have nothing to do with the current technical problems.

Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, said she has heard numerous reports of people being "mysteriously dis-enrolled" from Medicaid, errors on applications and long waits for help.

"The wait time for the people who stay on the line is over two hours, but 6,000 to 7,000 calls a day go unanswered," said Beauregard. "That's a lot of people who can't get assistance."

She cited glitches in the system and not enough workers to handle the job, and said assistance from the folks known as "kynectors" is not always possible.

Cabinet for Health and Family Services spokesman Doug Hogan acknowledged the difficulties and said the cabinet is "working diligently with the contractor to correct problems and make the system perform as was intended."

In the meantime, Pikeville resident and Medicaid recipient Connie Holt, who has many chronic health conditions, said her efforts to change her insurance provider became a daily nightmare.

"I was in tears by the end of the day," said Holt. "I would make calls until my battery went dead on my phone, and I'd have to plug it in to charge. Back and forth, all day long."

Cara Stewart, who was Holt's kynector in the process, said it took her over two weeks of nearly daily efforts to get the change made for Holt – which she added would have taken "five minutes last fall," under kynect.

Transitioning from kynect to a federal insurance exchange continues to be controversial.

State representatives in the Democrat-controlled House are expected to vote soon on legislation (HB 5 and HB 6) that would keep kynect and protect Medicaid expansion. Supporters say these have led to a sharp decline in uninsured rates, fewer emergency room visits and more preventive care.

According to Beauregard, 'yes' votes from the House would make a strong statement.

"We know from a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll that 72 percent of Kentuckians want to keep Medicaid expansion without any changes," she said. "And twice as many Kentuckians want to keep kynect."

However, Gov. Bevin and many Republican lawmakers say the state health insurance exchange is too expensive, and think the way Medicaid is delivered to 1.3 million Kentuckians should be restructured.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY