Pandemic, job losses and easy eligibility push Medicaid enrollment in Kentucky to a record high

More Kentuckians than ever are on Medicaid, due to job losses caused by the pandemic and the resulting relaxation of eligibility rules for the program, John Cheves reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

“After slowly falling for two years, the number of Kentuckians enrolled in Medicaid shot up by 10 percent to 1.45 million as tens of thousands of people lost their jobs — and typically, their employer-provided health insurance — following the shutdown of the state’s economy in March,” Cheves writes. “That means roughly one in every three Kentuckians was getting health coverage in June from Medicaid.” It’s about 30 percent.
Medicaid Commissioner Lisa Lee told a legislative committee June 25 that 77,000 of the new Medicaid beneficiaries enrolled under “presumptive eligibility,”  in which the usual Medicaid screening process for enrollment is waived for two months, under an order from Gov. Andy Beshear. “Basically, if you’re uninsured and you’re under age 65, it will get you coverage. Normally with Medicaid, there are all these extra rules,” Dustin Pugel, senior policy analyst at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy in Berea, told Cheves.“They’ve sort of been coy,” Pugel added. “They don’t want to broadcast that they’ve created basically a whole new coverage option. It is temporary, both for the folks who are on it and for the program itself, so I don’t think they wanted to tell the world, ‘Hey, we’ve got this new wide-open coverage option for folks who have lost their insurance.’” Presumptive eligibility is scheduled to end Sept. 30.

Lee also told the legislators that the federal government has picked up part of the tab, but the budget impact of higher enrollment is uncertain because the pandemic is unpredictable. “Still, lawmakers say they’re not too worried, yet,” Cheves reports: “Moments of crisis like this is one of the reasons for Medicaid, said state Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, a member of the budget subcommittee for health care spending.” Adams said, “It’s the right thing to do during this unprecedented time.”