FRANKFORT, Ky. — “Kynect” is back, repurposed as a one-stop, online shop for people to apply for Medicaid and a host of other resources such as food and child care assistance, job training and help for the elderly and people with disabilities.
Gov. Andy Beshear announced the launch of the state website Monday, initially created under his father, former Gov. Steve Beshear, as a state-run site where people could shop for health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.
Kynect won’t feature commercial insurance plans in time for this year’s open enrollment for health coverage in November.
Background: Beshear says restoring Kentucky’s health insurance exchange will save more than expected
But Andy Beshear, a Democrat, said kynect will include it by next year as part of his plan to restore the site shut down by his predecessor, Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican. Meanwhile, people can find a link to the federal site, healthcare.gov, for commercial health plans through kynect.ky.gov, he said.
“Today we are relaunching kynect as an updated portal connecting Kentuckians with health care options,” Beshear said. “This is a new, better, more comprehensive kynect.”
Kynect will replace the beleaguered state benefit site known as “benefind” that experienced massive problems after it was launched under Bevin as a way to apply for Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (also known as food stamps) and other state assistance.
Early flaws led to widespread disruption in state benefits and complaints by thousands of Kentuckians that they had been wrongly denied or cut off health coverage, SNAP and other aid.
Beshear said his administration has decided to consolidate most state aid programs under kynect, because it is better known, thanks to a massive publicity launch for its debut in 2013, and it should be simpler for consumers to use.
“It’s a place to go if you just need a little help,” he said.
Eric Friedlander, secretary of the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said Kentucky has already begun adding some Metro United Way services areas, so people can go to the website to find sources of local aid, such as food banks or utility assistance. Eventually, the state plans to have all 120 Kentucky counties included, he said.
Eric Friedlander appears with Gov. Andy Beshear on Feb. 21, 2020, to discuss the addition of staff to assist the state’s child welfare professionals. (Photo: Marty Pearl/Special to Courier Journal)
“We want to make it simple,” Friedlander said. “We want to make it accessible.”
The kynect site can be used with a smartphone, tablet or computer.
A key purpose of kynect during the current COVID-19 pandemic will be to get as many Kentuckians as possible enrolled in health coverage, including Medicaid, a federal-state health plan for low-income and disabled individuals, Beshear said.
Kentucky has been working to contact and enroll as many adults and children as possible who are eligible for Medicaid. Currently, about 1.6 million people — the highest number ever — are covered by Kentucky’s $12 billion-a-year Medicaid program, which gets about 70% of its money from the federal government.
The state is adding people to Medicaid at the rate of about 9,000 a month, Friedlander said. Officials believe job losses and loss of employer health coverage because of the pandemic is fueling most of the growth.
The Beshear administration is also working to enroll Black and Hispanic residents who are eligible as part of an effort to reduce racial and ethnic disparities highlighted by the coronavirus, in which people of color have higher rates of infection and death.
Beshear said Monday he will have more details but said, “It’s good news.”
Health advocates and others at Beshear’s announcement expressed support for restoring kynect and using technology to improve access to state benefits.
“We absolutely need to bring Kentucky into the 21st century with technology for services and connect people with the resources we have available,” said Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, an Independence Republican and chairwoman of the House Health and Family Services Committee.
But Moser said she is concerned about the growth in Medicaid and how Kentucky will find money to pay its share of the program as lawmakers draft a budget in the 2021 legislative session.
“We have a finite amount of dollars,” she said.
Several health advocates said Monday they are delighted Beshear has restored and expanded kynect.
“I love the idea of having a one-stop shop, particularly for people with disabilities,” said Sheila Schuster, a longtime mental health advocate and executive director of the Advocacy Action Network.
Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, a coalition of health groups in Kentucky, said she was pleased by the return of kynect, which she said was highly successful before Bevin shut it down in 2017.
Bevin was not a fan of the federal health plan, also known as Obamacare, and had worked to scale back the expansion of Medicaid under the law in Kentucky. He shut down kynect, saying it was too costly and unnecessary because people could use the federal website to shop for commercial health plans.
More: Bevin’s Medicaid work requirement would cost Kentucky hundreds of millions, feds say
But Beshear, in announcing earlier this year he planned to reinstate kynect, said it actually would save about $15 million a year because Kentuckians who buy commercial health plans through the federal site pay a surcharge on premiums.
Restoring the website and other kynect services to help people get coverage will cost about $5 million, and operating it will cost about $2 million a year, the governor said. Beshear said he expects those savings to be passed on to people who buy health plans through the exchange.
Beauregard said she thinks that’s the right approach, as well as including online access to other public aid through kynect.
“I think this is exactly the way government should work,” she said. “We’re removing the red tape.”
Reach Deborah Yetter at [email protected] or 502-582-4228. Find her on Twitter at @d_yetter. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/subscribe.
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