Last year, Kentucky led the nation in a critically important area: Relative to our population, more low-income individuals gained health coverage in Kentucky than any other state. It’s a remarkable achievement that will improve the health of our residents and strengthen both our state’s economy and health care system.
There’s a reason behind Kentucky’s success: Medicaid expansion.
Our state achieved the largest increase in coverage among low-income residents of any state — 76 percent in a single year, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services — through the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program. As a result, Kentucky more than cut by half its uninsured rate, from 20.4 percent to 9.8 percent.
For low-income Americans, securing health care coverage is the first step toward better health. It opens the door to preventive care, replaces the emergency room with a primary care provider for routine care, allows individuals to better manage chronic conditions, and ultimately improves health outcomes. But the benefits extend beyond good health.
In addition to the tangible benefits, having quality health insurance coverage simply provides much-needed peace of mind and security for Kentucky families. With health insurance, working parents can focus on getting a sick child to the doctor rather than worrying about how to pay for care. Many Kentuckians with diabetes can now get the medications they need to stay active, instead of rushing to the emergency room with a crisis.
Strong, stable neighborhoods and vibrant local economies depend on healthy residents. Children are better prepared to learn, adults are more productive, and the economy is more likely to thrive with a healthy workforce. Adults with health care coverage, including Medicaid, are more likely to stay employed and pay taxes. An independent analysis by Deloitte Consulting shows that expanding coverage in Kentucky supports tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax revenues.
When our neighbors have access to health benefits, our state’s health care system grows stronger. Providers are able to deliver timely and appropriate care, instead of more costly emergency care to uninsured patients. More residents with health care coverage results in less uncompensated care, and that means greater financial stability for safety net hospitals serving our most vulnerable citizens.
Kentucky’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed. A new analysis by UnitedHealth Group’s Center for Health Reform & Modernization hails our state’s successful enrollment of more than 500,000 as a national model for other states to follow in covering people and connecting them to better care.
Since the majority of newly insured Americans are now covered because their states expanded Medicaid eligibility to more residents, researchers examined why some states were more successful than others in enrolling uninsured individuals. The conclusion: Increasing coverage involves much more than simply expanding Medicaid eligibility.
Expanding Medicaid eligibility was only the first step in Kentucky’s efforts. Implementing the expansion didn’t require complicated new policy initiatives. As the study points out, the state adopted practical, common-sense strategies to raise awareness among low-income residents, made it easy for them to enroll, and ensured individuals stayed covered.
First, the state made it easier for eligible residents to enroll in coverage and, when possible, used information in state databases to confirm an individual’s eligibility.
Second, Kentucky offered residents multiple ways to apply for coverage — in-person, online, by phone or by mail — through a simple, streamlined enrollment process.
Third, there was a strong focus on customer service across the state that ensured residents received the personalized help they needed to complete the application process.
Finally, Kentucky made public awareness a priority by investing in a robust and effective campaign to encourage enrollment, including television advertising and partnerships with community organizations.
Kentucky offers a blueprint for all states, red, blue or purple, to enroll more low-income residents and help build stronger communities with more secure economic futures. Not every state looks the same, and states can tailor coverage expansions that are conducive to local conditions and priorities, while learning from how we pursued enrollment.
Across the country, eight million Americans remain uninsured, even though they are eligible for Medicaid, and four million adults with incomes below the poverty line live in states that have not yet expanded coverage. Here in Kentucky, despite our noteworthy progress, over 250,000 state residents remain uninsured. We need to reach them, enroll them and keep them covered. We know what works. Let’s finish the job for Kentucky, and continue to be an example for the rest of the country.
State Rep. Joni Jenkins, of Shively, is the chair of the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Human Resources, and State Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, of Louisville, is the House chair of the Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee.