FRANKFORT — After expanding the state's Medicaid program last week to about 308,000 Kentuckians, Gov. Steve Beshear launched several public education and awareness efforts Wednesday to help 332,000 more Kentuckians in need of health care coverage.
Beshear said Kentucky's Health Benefit Exchange, a key part of the federal Affordable Care Act is preparing to open for business. During a Capitol news conference, the Democratic governor introduced a website, Kynect.ky.gov, to help Kentuckians learn more about the program.
Beshear signed an executive order last July to create the exchange, which is an online marketplace offering health insurance plans for Kentuckians.
Beshear said the program, called "Kynect: Kentucky's Healthcare Connection," will help more than 600,000 Kentuckians get health care coverage through private insurance plans, Medicaid or the Kentucky Children's Health Insurance Program.
"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," Beshear said.
Carrie Banahan, executive director of the state exchange, said open enrollment for those seeking to buy insurance begins Oct. 1 and runs through March 31, 2014. Insurance coverage can begin as soon as Jan. 1. Open enrollment for small businesses also begins Oct. 1, but businesses with fewer than 50 employees will be able to enroll employees in plans offered through Kynect at any point after that date.
During open enrollment, Kentuckians will be able to compare and select health insurance plans and find out whether they qualify for Medicaid, KCHIP or other programs by using the Kynect website.
With Kynect, individuals can find out if they qualify for payment assistance and special discounts on deductibles, copayments and co-insurance. Small businesses can enroll their employees in health plans, and businesses with fewer than 25 employees may qualify for tax credits.
A toll-free hotline will open Aug. 15 at 1-855-4kynect or 1-855-459-6328.
Kentucky has received $252 million from the federal government to set up the exchange.
The development and operation of the state's exchange will be financed entirely with federal dollars until Jan. 1, 2015, after which it will be wholly financed with revenues it generates, Beshear said.
Beginning in January, most Americans will be required to have health insurance or pay a penalty. Under the law, no one can be denied coverage due to a pre-existing health condition or lose coverage because a family member gets sick.
Insurance companies will be prohibited from charging women more than men for the same coverage, and children will be allowed to stay on their parents' health insurance plan until they reach the age of 26.
Banahan said five insurance companies — Anthem, Humana, Bluegrass Family Health, United Healthcare and Kentucky Health Cooperative — have filed notice of intent to offer programs on the Kentucky exchange.
They have not yet filed rates, she said.
Tea Party activist David Adams of Jessamine County has filed a lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court challenging the legality of the state's health exchange.
Adams claims that Beshear did not receive "proper approval" from the Kentucky General Assembly to create the exchange.
A hearing is scheduled for Monday in Franklin Circuit Court to consider a request by Beshear to dismiss the lawsuit.
Beshear said Wednesday he is not concerned about the lawsuit.
"I think it is very clear that as governor I have the authority under the Constitution and the laws of Kentucky to implement this exchange," he said.