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Kentucky governor seeks to revive health insurance exchange


FRANKFORT, Ky. — Reversing his Republican predecessor, Kentucky's Democratic governor announced plans to bring back a health insurance program his father started that was credited with signing up hundreds of thousands of people for coverage before it was dismantled.

Gov. Andy Beshear said Wednesday that he sent a letter to federal officials notifying them of his plans to revive the state's health insurance exchange at the start of 2022. The program was an outgrowth of the landmark Affordable Care Act championed by then-President Barack Obama.

Beshear's father, former Gov. Steve Beshear, launched the state's online exchange in 2013, but it was dismantled by the Republican governor who followed. The state's exchange, dubbed kynect, allowed Kentuckians to purchase commercial health plans or sign up for Medicaid — a joint federal and state health care program for poor and disabled people.

Steve Beshear's successor, GOP Gov. Matt Bevin, had abolished the state exchange, fulfilling a campaign promise from his election in 2015. Bevin said it was too costly and that Kentuckians could use the federal website to buy health insurance.

Andy Beshear unseated Bevin in last year's election, and on Wednesday the new governor took the step of moving to revive the state exchange as part of his efforts to expand health insurance coverage.

“We have an opportunity to be better, to get healthier, to save money and ultimately to provide that basic human right that is health care,” Beshear said.

The state can do a better job of running the exchange, he said, adding that doing so would lower health insurance premiums for many Kentuckians. They now pay a 3% surcharge on insurance plans obtained through the federal site, amounting to $9.8 million a year, he said.

Beshear said the coronavirus outbreak has reinforced a “critical and deadly lesson” on the importance of health care coverage in a state plagued by high disease rates.

“This pandemic shows us that the lack of good health care options makes us more vulnerable and less resilient," he said. “In the last four years, we moved backwards on health care. The rate of uninsured children and overall the rate of uninsured Kentuckians grew.”

Under the state's health exchange, about a half million newly eligible Kentuckians were enrolled for coverage through Medicaid or other health plans, Beshear said.

“Kynect was one of the most successful exchanges in the country," he said. “And because of it, we reduced our uninsured Kentuckians at the highest rate in the country for several straight years.”

The governor said last week that his goal is to have every Kentuckian covered through private insurance, Medicaid or Medicare. He said then that an early focus would be on signing up black Kentuckians for coverage, noting they have suffered disproportionately from the coronavirus.

Relaunching the state exchange will result in a $5 million, one-time fee, followed by yearly operating costs of $1 million to $2 million, the governor said. Resuming the state's own exchange will give it the added flexibility to extend enrolment periods to sign people up, he said.

It's the latest move by Beshear to reverse Bevin's health care policies.

Early in his term, Beshear halted Bevin’s efforts to impose work requirements as a condition for some able-bodied adults to receive Medicaid health coverage. Beshear signed an executive order rescinding Bevin’s plan to require that the affected recipients either work, study, volunteer or perform other “community engagement” activities to qualify for Medicaid coverage. A federal judge blocked the requirements before they took effect, but Bevin’s administration had appealed.

Bruce Schreiner, The Associated Press

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