More than 1 in 3 Kentuckians are on Medicaid, after many lost their jobs and the state made enrollment easier due to pandemic

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
Kentucky has added more than 250,000 people to its Medicaid rolls since the coronavirus pandemic came to the state in early March, bringing the percentage of Kentuckians on the federal-state health plan up to 36 percent.

“As of today, more than 1.6 million people have enrolled in Medicaid,” Health Secretary Eric Friedlander said at Gov. Andy Beshear’s Sept. 28 briefing. “This is about a little more than one in three Kentuckians.” The estimated population is 4.5 million.

Kentucky leads the nation in the rate of people gaining coverage through Medicaid during the pandemic, with a 17.2% increase in enrollment since February, according to a Families USA report.

This surge in enrollment has largely been attributed to unemployment caused by the pandemic.

Kentucky’s unemployment rate was 5.2% in March, but jumped to 16.6% in April after Beshear issued an executive order March 25 making non-life-sustaining businesses end in-person service. The jobless rate was 7.6% in August, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The state has made it easier for people to sign up for Medicaid, and taken a wide range of actions to encourage people to do, including actively reaching out to those seeking unemployment insurance to see what other benefits they might need, Friedlander noted.
“We are actually the only state . . . that I know of that has proactively reached out to those folks who have had to get unemployment benefits,” he said.
That said, without extra federal relief still being debated in Congress, there is great concern that Kentucky’s budget will face serious shortfalls, which could result in cuts to Medicaid, which costs $12 billion a year, about three-fourths of it federal funds. Dustin Pugel, senior policy analyst for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, expressed this concern in a Sept. 15 Center report.
“As the pandemic rages on and more temporary layoffs in the recession become permanent, we must protect Kentuckians’ ability to get the medical care they need without going broke,” Pugel wrote. “If Congress leaves states with inadequate Medicaid support that ends too soon, they are putting families and economies at risk. Adjourning this month without passing a strong aid package is not an option.”
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