Opinion: Base kynect decisions on fact not fear

By Jerry Abramson

Business owners know that big problems require big solutions. When the problem is a damaging one that has persisted for decades despite attempts to combat it, that big solution must be pursued aggressively.

Gov. Steve Beshear visits the Kynect call center in Lexington on Nov. 8.
Gov. Steve Beshear visits the Kynect call center in Lexington on Nov. 8.
Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson
Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson

That, in a nutshell, is the reasoning behind Gov. Steve Beshear’s and my decision to use a new federal healthcare program to make affordable coverage available for the first time to every Kentuckian.

Since Oct. 1, a thousand Kentuckians a day have enrolled to receive health coverage through “kynect” – Kentucky’s marketplace for the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA). Nearly 500 small businesses began applying for coverage in the first month.

Some 640,000 Kentuckians are currently without health insurance, a gap that has had horrible consequences for our collective health. This poor health has led to increased healthcare costs for all our citizens, to decreased worker productivity, lowered quality of life and depressed school attendance.

Kynect’s potential to create a healthier population is critical to our future.

Some outsiders are puzzled that a so-called “red state” in the South is embracing the ACA.

For those of us working in the trenches to improve Kentucky’s health landscape, it’s no surprise. It’s another opportunity to build on our successes, like our move from a fee-based system to a Medicaid managed-care system, or our efforts to find, enroll and keep eligible children in the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program (KCHIP).

That’s why we’re exasperated by those Kentucky leaders so disconnected from the needs of Kentuckians who actively work against the new healthcare system.

They continue to suggest that Kentuckians aren’t buying into “Obamacare” despite the numbers. I would label that statement as misinformation.

When we launched our exchange, I traveled to 12 different cities. From Somerset to Hazard to Covington to Mayfield, I saw firsthand the true need and desire of Kentuckians for affordable, comprehensive healthcare.

I spoke to an attentive audience at the Kentucky League of Cities’ annual meeting about the ACA, and met a mayor of a small central Kentucky city who shopped the exchange and lowered his monthly premium by $200.

I also spoke to many Kentuckians suffering a genuine level of fear because of the rampant misinformation.

Nowhere has this misinformation thrived more than around the small business guidelines of the ACA. I’ve spoken directly to business groups who clearly share this fear and are reluctant to contact Kentucky’s health benefit exchange about rates and plans.

It all comes down to the facts.

Although businesses with 50 or fewer employees do not have to provide insurance to their workers, if they choose to do so, they can purchase insurance through kynect. Kynect is assisting small group employers in enrolling their employees in health plans through the Small Business Health Options Program.

The good news is that many small businesses will be eligible for tax credits if they meet three requirements: The employer must have fewer than 25 full-time employees; the employer must pay at least 50 percent of the premium for each employee; and the employer must have a group average annual wage less than $50,000.

And the health coverage is better than much of what exists today:

• No one can be denied coverage for any reason, even pre-existing conditions.

• Insurance companies are prohibited from charging women more than men.

• There is no cap or lifetime limit on benefits.

• Children can remain on their parents insurance until age 26.

• Mental healthcare and substance abuse treatment are covered.

Plus, the expansion is forecast to create nearly 17,000 new jobs and have a $15.6 billion positive impact on our state economy between 2014 and 2020.

Now, it’s true that the federal rollout has had significant problems. In fact, Kentucky will comply with President Obama’s request to allow Kentucky’s insurers the option of determining whether to extend existing health insurance policies to current policyholders for one more year.

I would remind everyone, however, that this process is a marathon, not a sprint. This effort has the potential to be transformational for the future of Kentucky and our nation. The impact on individual families will be just as significant.

But see for yourself by calling 855-4kynect or visit kynect.ky.gov.

Jerry Abramson is lieutenant governor of Kentucky.

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