Politics & Government

Kynect is dead. State officials say you won’t notice. Feds say get ready to wait.

Kynect magnets at the Fayette County Extension Office in Lexington in 2013.
Kynect magnets at the Fayette County Extension Office in Lexington in 2013. Herald-Leader

Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration says it expects a smooth transition Nov. 1 as open enrollment begins for health insurance and Kentuckians looking to buy coverage in 2017 switch from the state exchange, which Bevin is closing, to the federal exchange.

However, health care advocates worry that some people will be left behind. They say the state’s Kynect.ky.gov was a one-stop website that allowed people to shop for insurance and either be approved for a private plan — possibly with tax credits to make the plan more affordable — or be enrolled in Medicaid if they were near or below the poverty line, usually in one sitting.

The federal website HealthCare.gov could require multiple sessions and an indefinite waiting period while applications are processed, and applicants will be sent to a state-run public benefits website, Benefind.ky.gov, if they are found to be eligible for Medicaid.

“What we’ve seen in Kentucky is tremendous success with Kynect,” said Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voices For Health. “It’s not going to be nearly as simple with HealthCare.gov. Delays with application transfers and error messages have been a significant problem in some of the states that have been using HealthCare.gov already.”

Advocates also praised Kynect because it came with an advertising campaign to promote it and employed more than 500 navigators, called Kynectors, who went into communities and walked people through the application process.

That part of the process really won’t change, although the “Kynectors” now will be called “assistors,” according to the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

“Their role is essentially the same as in years past,” cabinet spokesman Doug Hogan said this week. “They are still doing similar outreach and are available to assist as in years past. One difference is that they will have to be trained and certified to navigate both Benefind and HealthCare.gov.”

In coming weeks, the cabinet will use advertising, social media and other methods to remind the public about the switch to the federal exchange, Hogan said. About 85,000 people bought a health plan through Kynect last year, so the cabinet expects a similar number this year, he said.

Former Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, established Kynect in 2013 under the federal Affordable Care Act, saying he preferred for Kentucky to run its own health insurance marketplace. Bevin, a Republican, reversed that move after he was elected last November, calling Kynect a financially unsustainable boondoggle that has cost $330 million.

Transitioning to HealthCare.gov is projected to save the state more than $10 million in annual operating costs, Hogan said. The savings will come from no longer having to support the state website, an enrollment call center, eligibility and enrollment appeals processing, auditing and other functions that now will be handled by the federal government, he said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sent Bevin a letter Oct. 4 formally approving his decision to end Kynect, despite “concern about the impact on consumers.” The federal agency will monitor Kentucky for signs of application backlogs, acting administrator Andrew M. Slavitt told Bevin.

“We remain concerned that Kynect’s transition to the federal platform may disrupt the seamless system of coverage that Kynect established,” Slavitt wrote. “As a result, eligible people may face delays in or lack access to the coverage for which they are eligible, whether that is Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program or a Marketplace Qualified Health Plan.”

In the end, though, “this is Kentucky’s decision to make,” he wrote.

The cabinet is warning insurance customers that there will be fewer plan choices in many parts of Kentucky for 2017. Also, premiums are increasing by an average of more than 20 percent, Health and Family Services Secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson said in a prepared statement.

These problems “are merely the reality of the current volatility in insurance markets as insurers react to the burdensome requirements of the Affordable Care Act,” Glisson said. She added: “Many Kentuckians enrolling through HealthCare.gov will qualify for Advanced Premium Tax Credits, which should greatly offset some of the cost of the plans.”

John Cheves: 859-231-3266, @BGPolitics