Now that Gov. Steve Beshear has issued the order to create a state health insurance exchange, the state is scheduling public forums to explain it. Rachel Klein, the executive director of Enroll America, said 78 percent of uninsured Americans "have no idea that there is new health coverage coming."
Klein's nonprofit organization, based in Washington, D.C., is working with local and state groups like the Kentucky Voices for Health coalition to help spread the word that many will be eligible for health care under the exchange, part of national health reform.
Under the exchange, people who earn up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level will be able to buy private health insurance, and most will have their premiums partly paid for through federal subsidies. They will be able to get information about various policies and enroll online.
Officials from the state Department of Insurance and Cabinet for Health and Family Services will hold six educational forums in the coming days to talk about the exchange the federal health-care reform law. Here is the schedule:
• Erlanger: 1-3:30 p.m. July 25, Northern Kentucky University, The METS Center
• Louisville: 1-3:30 p.m., July 26, University of Louisville Shelby Campus
• Prestonsburg: 1-3:30 p.m., July 27, Big Sandy Community and Technical College
• Somerset: 1-3:30 p.m., Aug. 1, Somerset Community College
• Paducah: 1-3:30 p.m., Aug. 16, West Kentucky Community and Technical College
• Owensboro: 8:30-11 a.m., Aug. 17, Owensboro Community and Technical College
Once the exchange is set up, Klein said it will be important for the sign-up process to be easy. States should make the application itself easy to read and be sure there is a lot of help available to those enrolling, she said. "It's hard to underestimate the incredible need for assistance," Klein said. Another key piece is to make sure the exchange's technology "coordinates well with other systems that are already in existence," she said.
The exchange will include the federal-state Medicaid program. Kentucky has the option of expanding its program up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level (with a sort of fudge factor up to 138 percent). Right now, only those earning up to 59 percent qualify. Expansion would cover almost 300,000 more Kentuckians, Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville said last week. The has not yet released an exact number of how many would be affected.
As of last Friday, Kentucky was the 16th state to commit to an exchange. States have until Nov. 1 to inform the federal government if they intend to set up an exchange, and have until Jan. 1, 2014 to get them up and running.
KVH said it will also help educate the public. Executive Director Jodi Mitchell said she is staying connected with the state to keep abreast of the status of the exchange. "The cabinet is going to do it the way the cabinet is going to do it," she said. "The challenge is for us to keep involved and hold them accountable as they proceed."