Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 1, 2013

Health care exchanges open

Carrie Stambaugh
The Independent

ASHLAND — Kentuckians can now sign up for health insurance through the state’s health care exchange, Kynect. It opened at midnight and is available via Kynect.ky.gov.  

Under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, most Americans are required to have health insurance or pay a fine. The individual mandate goes into effect in 2014.

Kentucky, unlike some of its neighboring states, has its own state marketplace. Five providers have been sanctioned to provide plans. They include: Anthem, UnitedHealthcare, Humana, Bluegrass Family Health and the Kentucky Health Cooperative. However, not all companies are offering plans in every area of the state.

There are four categories of health plans offered: platinum, gold, silver and bronze. Platinum plans have higher premiums and lower out-of-pocket costs whereas bronze plans have lower premiums, but higher out-of-pocket costs.

Open enrollment runs through March 31, with coverage beginning as soon as January. To be eligible for coverage Jan. 1, enrollment must take place by Dec. 15.

These new insurance marketplaces are for two major groups: those without insurance and those who currently purchase their own insurance. The exchanges do not sell policies that supplement Medicare.

Individuals who have insurance through their jobs, Medicaid or Veterans Affairs will also not be affected by the exchanges.

“Kentucky is ready for the exchange to become functional and there have been a few little IT glitches, but by and large the system is ready to go, we should commence without a lot of headaches,” said Marcus Woodward, an Ashland insurance agent and member of the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange Advisory Board.

Woodward encouraged Kentuckians looking for insurance to ask for help. He also advised individuals buying through the exchange or on the open market to take their time doing research.

All insurance policies, he said, already include the price of seeking professional help whether it is utilized or not. “It’s the same price as doing it yourself,” he said.

Kynect also offers a Lexington-based call center to answer questions from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday at (855) 4Kynect (459-6328). There is also a chat function online.

The Northeast Kentucky Community Action Agency also has certified “navigators” or “Kynectors” who can help individuals determine which plan is best for them. These individuals cannot recommend plans but insurance agents and brokers can. There are more than 3,400 insurance professionals in Kentucky that have been trained in the new system, according to state officials.

Professionals, said Woodward, can help an individual purchase a policy that is either on the exchange or off. Kentucky’s exchange is connected to federal databases, including the IRS, to determine eligibility for premium assistance or expanded medicaid.

According to state officials, four out of every five uninsured Kentuckians are expected to qualify for a discount to make insurance more affordable. Kentucky has more than 640,000 uninsured citizens, representing about 15 percent of the population.

“Tonight at midnight is the starting gate,” Woodward said Monday. “It’s when the gun first goes off. It is not the finish line. There is no reward for getting there first. My advice would be to take your time, get on the Internet and check out the available coverages that are there ... and then find a professional and ask for them to give you a little advice.”

Woodward added, “It is very important to vet your need. Make sure the things you are currently using are going to be addressed properly by the coverage you seek. Make sure your drugs are covered, your doctor and your hospital of preference is in there and look at all the prices.”

Some insurance companies, said Woodward, including a very prominent one, have significantly changed their networks for plans offered through the exchange.

Woodward said clients at Woodward & Associates and Ashland Health Insurance Agency are ready to become some of the first to enroll in plans. “We have one young lady who is desperate for the coverage and wants it, so we are going to take care of her immediately,” said Woodward.

“Kentucky for too long has languished at the bottom of America’s list of health outcomes, and we know that with insurance for all Kentuckians provided through Kynect, Kentucky will prosper from good health and proper treatment,” he said.

CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653 or by email at cstambaugh@dailyindependent.com