Kentuckians are likely to need help signing up for health insurance on the federal exchange, especially in east and south

Kentuckians looking for a 2017 health plan on the federal exchange will likely need some help signing up, if a study of last year’s need for support on the former Kynect exchange is any indication.

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky study found that more than half of Kentuckians (52.3 percent) who got their health insurance through Kynect last year worked with a kynector, a person who helped them sign up. The study also found that 41.7 percent contacted the Kynect call center and 38 percent visited the Kynect website.

“As the commonwealth transitions away from Kynect and into a supported state-based marketplace using the federal portal Healthcare.gov, this report tells us that more than half may be reaching out for one-on-one assistance, either in person or by phone, during the process,” Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the foundation, said in a news release.

The report comes from the State Health Access Data Assistance Center at the University of Minnesota, which the foundation is paying more than $280,000 to study the impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act over three years. This study shows a quarterly snapshot of April, May June 2016.

Kentuckians who qualify for insurance subsidized by federal tax credits, called qualified health plans, are signing up on HealthCare.gov during this year’s open enrollment, which began Nov. 1 and goes through Jan. 31. (Individuals must sign up by Dec. 15 to get coverage that begins Jan. 1.)

The state has extended contracts with the same organizations that provided kynectors for Kynect, but they are now called “application assisters” and every county in Kentucky is served by one of these organizations, according to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. You can find an application assister by clicking on a search button on the Kynect website or by calling Kynect’s customer services at 855-459-6328.

Use of Kynect was higher in Eastern and Southern Kentucky.

Chandler said the need for assistance “is likely to be greatest in Eastern Kentucky, where a larger proportion of residents accessed their 2016 coverage through Kynect.”

The report found that the highest rate of Kynect enrollment in 2016 was in Eastern Kentucky, at 33.9 percent, and the lowest was in Northern Kentucky at 16 percent. Western Kentucky (27.8 percent), greater Louisville (22.5 percent), and greater Lexington (21.9 percent) were all closer to the state average of 25.8 percent.

Of the nearly 26 percent of Kentucky adults who got their health coverage for 2016 through Kynect, just 5 percent enrolled in private individual-market coverage and 95 percent enrolled in Medicaid, the report said.

WFPL of Louisville reported in early November that an application assister in Manchester, Sharon Bush, said many people in southeastern Kentucky don’t have or use information technology, adding to the challenge of getting people signed up in the region. For example, HealthCare.gov requires an e-mail account to sign up. Another challenge is that application assisters can no longer get into the system to enroll their clients as they could on Kynect, so consumers must be able to do it themselves or work with a company that has bought the software to do so.

Health Status of Kynect Enrollees

Kentuckians who used Kynect tended to have poorer health. “If last year’s numbers hold true, those looking to buy insurance or sign up for Medicaid via the federal portal will have poorer health than their counterparts who already have insurance,” Chandler said.

The report said 45 percent of those who enrolled through Kynect said they were in fair or poor health, compared to 28 percent of Kentucky’s non-elderly adult population.

Click here for tips on picking a health plan on Healthcare.gov, including the types of plans available and quality ratings.

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