‘Health Gains Campaign’ shows successes of Medicaid expansion as Kentucky Voices for Health plans to deal with a new governor

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky Voices for Health is planning for the future as Kentucky gears up for a new administration by working on what it calls a “Sustaininged Health Policy  Gains Campaign,” which involves a four-phase approach to continue its mission of improving health care and health coverage for Kentuckians, KVH Executive Director Emily Beauregard said at the annual Friedell Committee for Health meeting in Lexington Sunday, Oct. 25.

KVH is in the first phase, which it calls the “Health Gains Campaign,” by sharing the many successes of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act related to Medicaid expansion, including county-by-county enrollment and preventive service data, and the Kynect health-insurance exchange.

Beauregard said they are sharing stories about the people who have coverage through Medicaid expansion because, “We really do feel like those are the folks who were previously ineligible for coverage and these are the people who really have benefited from the Affordable Care Act.”

“We know through the American Community Survey data that the majority of folks who are eligible for Medicaid expansion actually are working at some point throughout the year. … A lot of these workers just don’t have employer benefits that include health insurance,” Beauregard said, noting that this information is on their infographic.

The next phases of the the campaign will educate the new administration that takes office Dec. 8; be involved with the next legislative session and budget discussions; and work toward getting an executive order signed for continuation of Kynect. Beauregard said KVH will need to have a “groundswell” of support because the budget will have to include money to pay 5 percent of the Medicaid expansion in 2017 and 6 percent in 2018. The next budget runs from July 2016 to June 2018.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jack Conway and independent candidate Drew Curtis favor the expansion and Kynect. Republican nominee Matt Bevin says he wants to change the Medicaid expansion, and would abolish Kynect, sending people to the federal exchange.

Medicaid expansion is “a program that does cost money to insure more people, but it also has some really, really important benefits to Kentucky and we believe the gains outweigh the cost,” Beauregard said.

KVH is a group of organizations and individuals working to improve health and coverage for Kentuckians, and was organized in response to the federal health-reform law. It includes groups that lobby, but it does not lobby.

KVH is sharing, sometimes in online videos, stories collected over the last year of individuals who have signed up for health coverage through Kynect and have benefited from the reform law. Laken Gilbert from Flemingsburg is one of those individuals and shared her story.

Laken Gilbert speaks as Friedell Committee Executive Director
Richard Heine listens. (Ky. Health News Photo by Al Cross)

“I guess you don’t really realize what coverage is like if you have never had it before,” Gilbert said. “And all the work that you all have done is just phenomenal and it really has helped these folks that haven’t had coverage.”

Gilbert said that more than half of the people who live in Flemingsburg have received coverage through the Medicaid expansion. Medicaid expansion enrollment in Fleming County was 1,773 as of Oct. 8, according to the KVH infographic. That is more than 12 percent of the county’s population. “That is amazing to me,” she said.

Gilbert told the committee that she had grown up poor and her parents had never had health insurance, unless her mother was pregnant and this qualified for traditional Medicaid. Gilbert said she was raised primarily by her grandparents, who were farmers and also did not have health insurance. So, Gilbert said she grew up with the Kentuccky Children’s Insurance Program, another form of Medicaid.

In anticipation of losing her coverage when she turned 19, Gilbert said she had her wisdom teeth removed and got her preventive care before becoming uninsured, because she was afraid of being overwhelmed with the cost of such procedures. She said she was able to get student health benefits while a student at Morehead State University and the University of Kentucky.

Gilbert enrolled in the Medicaid expansion while a law student at UK as soon as it became available, which was important to her because her family still didn’t have have health insurance; the federal health-reform law allows children to remain on their parents’ insurance until they are 26.

After finding out that she qualified for health coverage through the expansion, Gilbert said, “My first call was to my grandparents who weren’t covered, and we got them signed up.” Since, she said her grandfather has been diagnosed and treated for diabetes and her grandmother for several heart conditions.

“That to me is the win, that my grandparents are now covered,” she said. “I want to say thank you and to let you know that what you do really matters and is touching the lives of Kentucky citizens.”

Gilbert has received her law degree and has been admitted to the bar but will continue to sign up for health coverage through Kynect because the law firm she will be working for is so small it doesn’t provide health insurance.

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