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New Health Exchange Questions Answered at Forum in Covington

"A new day has arrived."

That's the message that greets visitors to Kynect's website where details on Kentucky's new health care exchange, pronounced "connect", are offered.

It was also the message from the two panelists at the Northern Kentucky Forum's latest discussion, Health Care Reform: How Will It Work For You, presented Wednesday night at the Center for Great Neighborhoods in Covington.

"It's a day to celebrate being in Kentucky," said Cara Stewart, a health law fellow at the Kentucky Equal Justice Center. "I'm always Kentucky proud... but I want everyone to take a moment to say hey, this is good, it's good to be in Kentucky."

Stewart cited a recent appearance on a Cincinnati radio station in which she fielded questions from callers in three states and she the answer was best for callers from Kentucky. Ohio and Indiana have yet to implement health care exchanges under the federal Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Under the guidelines of the Affordable Care Act most Americans will be required to have health insurance starting in 2014. Kynect will offer payment assistance and special discounts or tax credits. The new program, according to state officials, will allow consumers to compare and select insurance plans and find out if they qualify for programs like Medicaid or the Kentucky Children's Health Insurance Program.

Gone are the days when customers could be denied health insurance for having a pre-existing condition and other barriers to proper health care coverage, the panelists said Wednesday.

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"As a cancer survivor you can no longer be denied. You can shop on Kynect," said Miriam Fordham of the Office of the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange, when asked by a member of the audience.

The panel was moderated by the Cincinnati Enquirer's health care reporter, Lisa Bernard-Kuhn.

The forum was not a debate on the merits or any perceived controversy about health care reform but rather focused on the fact that Obamacare has arrived in Kentucky and according to the panelists, that is a good thing.

"If you work a minimum wage job full-time, a forty-hour week minimum wage job, you will have no monthly premium cost," Stewart told one member of the audience who asked about wages. That was one of many well-received endorsements of Kynect.

Governor Steve Beshear in 2012 created the exchange by executive order. “When I issued an executive order last year creating a state-based health benefit exchange, I did so to ensure that our health benefit exchange would be designed to best meet the unique needs of Kentuckians,” Beshear said in May when the program's name was announced. “Individuals, families and small businesses will be able to use kynect for one-stop shopping to find health coverage and determine if they are eligible for payment assistance or tax credits to help cover costs.” 

The benefits for small businesses were also highlighted.

Businesses with fifty or fewer full-time employees will be able to buy health insurance through kynect while businesses with twenty-five or fewer employees may get tax credits to help pay for health care. Those businesses must meet three requirements: Employ less than twenty-five people, pay at least fifty percent of the premium, and pay an average wage of less than $50,000 annually.

Open enrollment for kynect begins October 1.

For individuals that means new opportunities for the uninsured. Adults making less than $15,857 annually will qualify for Medicaid at no cost. Individuals making $20,000 a year will have an estimated health care cost of $67 a month or $800 a year. Families will also qualify for similar plans based on income.

All new health plans must cover certain items called essential health benefitsts such as doctor visits, trips to the hospital and emergency room, medicine and care for pregnant women and children, according to the exchange's website. 
From the website: Health plans offered on kynect will be in one of four new metal categories: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. As the metal level increases in value from Bronze to Platinum, so does the percentage of medical expenses that the plan will cover. For example, you could choose a Platinum plan with a higher premium and pay a lower out-of-pocket cost. Or you could choose a Bronze plan with a lower premium and pay a higher out-of-pocket cost.

For more details, visit Kynect's website.

Story & photos by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News