Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 3, 2013

Ashlanders among first to sign up for Kynect

Ronnie Ellis
CNHI

ASHLAND —  While Washington politicians wage ideological warfare over “Obamacare,” 31-year-old Elizabeth Watts of Ashland just knew she badly needed health insurance she couldn’t afford.

Moments after midnight Tuesday, she was enrolled in Kentucky’s expanded Medicaid program through Kynect, the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange under the Affordable Care Act.

She appears to be the first person to sign up in Kentucky ­— and maybe even the first in the nation, according to Ashland insurance agent Marcus Woodward, who helped her apply online.

Watts, who works about 30 hours a week at “slightly more than minimum wage” at Shell Food Mart in Ashland suffered a heart attack in December. Her dad’s family has an extensive history of heart disease. Her dad died from a heart attack at 51 and an uncle also succumbed to a heart attack at 55.

Watts had a stent installed and was working with the hospital on a payment plan to address her unpaid bills. But shortly after that, she had to have unexpected gynecological surgery. Now, she’s recovering but she’s also got a lot of unpaid medical bills and without the new law, couldn’t afford the treatment she needed.

She knows people on both sides of the debate have strong feelings about the new law but she’s not that interested in the politics or ideology.

“It’s going to help me and I’m really, really glad for that,” she said. “And I hope it helps other people.”

Apparently, it will. According to a spokeswoman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, more than 8,300 Kentuckians had been accepted for coverage by 7 a.m. Thursday.

One of them is Mark Wills, 51, who has a long list of medical problems — diabetes, high blood pressure, and knee problems. He was laid off from his job and couldn’t afford to seek treatment. Come Jan. 1, he can, because Woodward helped sign Wills up for the expanded Medicaid coverage shortly after Watts was accepted.

“Yes sir! It’s a life-saver for me,” Wills said. “I’ve been without health insurance for quite awhile.”

And despite the dire predictions of the law’s critics, both Watts and Wills said signing up was easy. Watts began filling out the application at 11:30 p.m. and “we hit the send button at 12 midnight. And it came through that I was accepted at 12:04. It was extremely easy, just the normal things like age, Social Security number and my income.”

“Everything was explained to where I could understand it,” said Wills. “I’m just glad this has come into effect and I was able to sign up.”

Wills knows he may have to go back online when he finds work and perhaps becomes income-ineligible for Medicaid. That doesn’t concern him, however; he’s already talked to Woodward, who said Wills will likely qualify for a subsidy if he does.

Wills said his lack of insurance “kept me from going to the doctor like I needed to. I have a lot of problems but I couldn’t afford it.”

Watts had tried to purchase private insurance, but it was going to cost her $300 a month.

“That was way too much,” she said. “I wouldn’t even bring enough pay home to cover that.”

Her 51-year-old husband, Brent, works at McDonald’s, which has said it will offer employees insurance, so he hasn’t applied through Kynect. But Watts said if the company insurance at McDonald’s turns out to cost too much, he will shop for coverage on Kynect.

Asked why a private insurance agent was helping Watts, Wills and others sign up for subsidized care, Woodward said his job is to find the best coverage for his clients. Woodward said insurance agents were included in the planning of Kynect and they have long enjoyed a good working relationship with the Kentucky Department of Insurance.

And they can receive commissions from the companies who enroll patients through Kynect, a commission that is built into the price of the premium — “so it doesn’t cost the client anything.”

Woodward is a regular customer where Watts works as a cook and cash register clerk, so he suggested Watts look for coverage through Kynect. Wills had previously sought private insurance through Woodward and had actually applied for coverage but then was hit with some unanticipated bills “and I had to back out. Now I’ll have coverage.”

Woodward arranged to meet Watts and Wills at his office just before midnight Monday so they could apply online using his computer and his assistance.

Wills and Watts both say they’re spreading the word to people they know who need insurance. Neither is much interested in the ideological debate — they’re just happy they’ll soon have affordable health insurance.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.