“With today’s technology, everything is online and on the phone. There’s not really person-to-person interaction that much anymore, and we offer that,” said a Kynector who spoke to The Sun on the condition of anonymity. “We do more than just navigate them through Kynect. We’re familiar with other services in our communities, and we use them. We use them to the max, to assist people in getting the service and coverage they need.”
Kynectors and the call center that supports the exchange are credited with helping more than 500,000 Kentuckians sign up for health insurance, most of them for free coverage under the federal-state Medicaid program, which Bevin also wants to change.
Bevin says he is dismantling Kynect because it is redundant and says it “adds no value” that is not available on the federal exchange. Many states that use the federal exchange have “navigators,” which is what Kentucky calls Kynectors, but it is likely that a move to the federal exchange will leave the state with one-fourth as many of them, Bill Wagner, executive director of Family Health Centers in Louisville, told the Friedell Committee in late October.
Postlethwait writes, “Several Kynectors pointed out that not everyone has reliable Internet access or is computer literate. Also, there are times when a call to a Medicaid provider or other insurer can take hours. Some people can’t afford the minutes on their phones to make such lengthy calls, they said. Others may not have the patience or know-how to navigate insurance providers’ phone systems.”
“When they’re on their own, they often just give up,” the anonymous Kynector told Postlethwait. “We help them get to the right place.”
Kynectors reach out through monthly events, setting up shop in health departments, clinics and community centers, and making home visits to those who are homebound or don’t have reliable transportation, Postlethwait reports. They are equipped with laptops, printers, cell-phones and Internet access to help their clients.
The Kynectors’ stories are supported by a Health Affairs study that found consumers who received in-person assistance were more than twice as likely to successfully enroll in health insurance than those who tried to enroll online without any assistance, and those who received local assistance were the most successful.
With most of their contracts ending June 30, the fate of the 500 Kynectors remains unknown. They told the Sun that they hadn’t heard anything either way about whether they’d be keeping their jobs. Health Secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson told the House Budget Subcommittee for Human Resources Feb. 18 that she did not know how many, if any, will remain after Kynect ends, John Cheves reported for the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Bevin also says Kynect is not fairly funded because all Kentuckians with health insurance are paying for something that relatively few of them use. Kynect is funded by a 1 percent assessment on all health policies sold in the state; the federal exchange charges a 3.5 percent fee on the policies it sells.
Former Gov. Steve Beshear has launched a statewide campaign to “Save Kentucky Healthcare” and there have been several heated discussions during the House budget subcommittee, with Democratic Rep. Jim Wayne of Louisville suggesting that Bevin is “throwing up barriers” to people looking for health coverage.
Also, a newly formed coalition called Keep Kentucky Covered, which supports Kynect and the Medicaid program as expanded by Beshear, held a press conference for farmers to share how important these programs have been to their abilities to farm.
Advocates point to a Gallup Inc. poll that shows Kentucky leads the nation in the reduction of the percentage of its people without health insurance, dropping to 7.5 percent from 20.4 percent before full implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2014.
“Let them argue,” the anonymous Kynector told Postlethwait. “In the meantime, we were signed on as Kynectors. We’re going to keep connecting until we’re told not to. We’re going to be out in the community, making people aware of their options, still trying to help every individual we can.”
The Kynectors hope they can stay on and keep working to help individuals obtain health care coverage, as well as help them navigate the federal health care system if that change occurs, noting that “having that human point of contact is crucial,” Postlethwait writes.
The anonymous Kynector told The Sun that she’d be happy to stay on as a “navigator” and believes most other Kynectors would be too, saying, “When I think about it, whether it’s Kynect or the federal marketplace, as long as you have Kynectors or navigators to assist individuals, that’s what makes the difference on how well it will go.” (This story is behind a paywall.)