With all the competing claims – of success by supporters, of glitches and high costs by opponents – many Kentuckians may have as hard a time deciding if the Kentucky version of the Affordable Care Act is succeeding as they do in evaluating the new law itself.
But at least so far, the data appears to show it’s working better in Kentucky than in most states and there’s a lot of interest by those who previously couldn’t afford health insurance.
Thursday, Gov. Steve Beshear and Health and Family Services Cabinet Sec. Audrey Tayse Haynes appeared on C-SPAN to talk about what they say is the overwhelming initial success of Kynect, the commonweath’s state-operated health exchange.
Even the president of the United States chimed in.
“In Kentucky — I didn’t win in Kentucky — I know they weren’t doing it for me,” President Barack Obama said in a speech in Rockville, Md., “nearly 11,000 people applied for new insurance plans in the first two days.”
The same day Kentucky’s Republican U.S. Senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, sent out an op-ed piece in which they claimed “Kentuckians aren’t buying it.”
Tuesday was the first day for people to sign up on health exchanges under the ACA or “Obamacare.” On its first day visits to the Kynect site overwhelmed the system, which crashed for several hours.
Cabinet spokeswoman Jill Midkiff, however, said the state brought on two more servers to handle the heavier-than-expected traffic on Tuesday. Since then, however, things have gone smoothly enough that several national publications, including the Wall Street Journal, have reported Kentucky’s site is operating better than the rest of the nation.
The numbers seem to bear that out: According to Midkiff, by 7 a.m. Thursday 117,954 people visited the web site, viewing 1,825,779 pages; nearly 109,000 people conducted pre-screenings to determine eligibility for subsidies or Medicaid; 12,779 had begun the process of applying for health coverage and 8,309 had completed the applications.
Midkiff said 3,505 individuals or families have been accepted and enrolled and 122 small businesses have begun the application process.
Beshear said on C-SPAN and later in a speech in Washington D.C., that Kynect is working well and those who are coming to the website are finding options for affordable health coverage for the first time.
While taking calls on C-SPAN Thursday, Haynes said she’d staffed a phone bank earlier in the week, taking calls and answering questions from those who are investigating their options under the new law. She said once people understand their options, most callers are pleased.
Beshear followed Haynes and took a call from a self-identified Republican from London, who said the new law has increased his insurance costs and is nothing more than an “Obama tax on hard-working people” to pay for insurance for others.
Beshear told the caller to check out rates and plans at Kynect.
“There’s a world of misinformation out there, but you don’t have to take my word for it,” Beshear said. “Just go online and find out for yourself. It's not going to cost you one dime to go and check; if you qualify for a subsidy you're going to be very excited about what you find.”
But McConnell and Paul said in their op-ed that the law will “force you to buy a product it wants you to buy” and said the Kentucky plan limits consumer choices “to just two companies in the individual exchange market.”
However, Beshear said on C-SPAN those shopping on the exchanges are those who previously couldn’t find any affordable insurance on the private market.
“This is cheaper than anything you can find by going out and buying an individual plan,” Beshear said.
Marcus Woodward, a licensed private insurance agent from Ashland, said the ACA is working well in Kentucky, partly because of the support by private insurance agents.
Woodward said over his 30 years in the business he’s encountered countless numbers of people who needed health insurance but couldn’t afford it on their incomes. That’s why he and other agents are helping people to sign up for the new coverage.
“Agents and brokers go shopping for their clients,” Woodward said, whether they shop among private insurers or on Kynect. “They don’t have loyalty to the companies; their loyalty is to their clients.”
One feature of the Kynect site allows visitors to request help from agents or those trained as “Kynectors” to assist consumers, and Woodward said the help is free.
Beshear responded to one caller to C-SPAN questioning the cost to the federal budget by saying, “The health of our people is what’s important to me, so I’m willing to spend some government money.”
“These people aren’t some kind of aliens,” Beshear said. “They’re hard-working Kentuckians who for the most part couldn’t afford insurance before.” He said providing better health care will transform the state by creating a healthier population and work force while improving Kentucky’s negative image.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.