Website improvements, new mobile app among efforts to encourage more signups
FRANKFORT, Ky. (Nov. 10, 2014) – Governor Steve Beshear announced a series of improvements to kynect, the state’s health benefit exchange, designed to improve consumer experience and encourage more Kentuckians to enroll in affordable health insurance. He also outlined the many beneficial impacts of the Affordable Care Act so far in Kentucky, especially for health care providers.
Kentuckians who need health insurance may find more choices and lower prices by shopping on kynect during open enrollment beginning Nov. 15 and closing Feb. 15, 2015.
“Kentucky is the hands-down national leader in helping people access affordable health care. Our exchange, kynect, is the gold standard for ease of use and convenience. However, we have been working since last spring to make it even better for Kentuckians during this open enrollment,” said Gov. Beshear. “We are also encouraging people who bought health plans on the exchange to go back and shop again, because you may find a better plan for your family.”
Kentucky was hailed as a national leader last year when more than 521,000 Kentuckians enrolled in health care coverage through kynect. Three out of every four enrollees reported that they had no health insurance prior to signing up through kynect. A Gallup poll this summer reported that thanks to kynect, Kentucky had the second-highest reduction of uninsured people in the country, falling from 20.4 percent in 2013 to 11.9 percent midway through 2014.
New app and enhanced website
Since the first open enrollment period closed last spring, kynect administrators have developed a new mobile app as well as enhancements to the kynect website to make shopping even easier.
The kynect mobile app is a free download available for both Apple and Android smartphones. Through it, users can enter basic information about their address and household income to see what kind of coverage they may qualify for, and how much of a discount or subsidy they may be able to use. The app also shows nearby insurance agents and kynectors, as well as enrollment events in the user’s county.
Future versions of the app, expected to be available later this fall, will add more functions, including the ability for a user to access their kynect account, see the details of their enrolled plan, submit photos of documents needed for verification and to receive alerts and messages.
The kynect website has also seen improvements. Now, entering your basic information about county of residence, household income, household size and smoking status will not only show which plans are available, but will also display the final amount members will pay for those plans – with discounts and subsidies already calculated.
“Very few people shopping for health insurance through kynect will pay what we call the ‘sticker price’, or the full cost of a plan. More than 3 out of every 4 Kentuckians will qualify for some kind of payment assistance to lower their premium cost,” said Carrie Banahan, executive director of kynect. “Now, you’ll be able to evaluate your actual costs right away.”
To support the high volume of website visitors and applications, kynect administrators also added new servers to expand capacity.
More agents, more call center representatives, new storefront
Insurance agents were a vital partner in kynect’s success last year. They signed up 44 percent of all Kentuckians who bought private health insurance. This year, the number of certified insurance agents authorized to sell kynect health plans has doubled, from 1,400 to 2,800.
“Shopping for health insurance is often easier with an agent, especially when it’s someone who’s familiar with your family,” said Audrey Tayse Haynes, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. “There are insurance agents in every county trained to help individuals find their best plan through kynect, and we’re excited that so many more agents have signed on to guide Kentuckians to better health care.”
To shorten call times and handle high call volumes, the number of kynect call center representatives has increased from 185 to 400; call center hours have been expanded to 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
Finally, kynect will have a physical store in Lexington’s Fayette Mall during open enrollment. The kynect store will open this Thursday, and will have insurance agents, kynectors and kiosks available during the mall’s regular hours to help people determine eligibility, choose insurance plans and enroll in health care coverage.
Shop around for the best price, best coverage
Two new insurance companies have joined the kynect marketplace, bringing the total number of insurers in the state to seven and increasing choices for many Kentuckians. Also, returning insurers have revised some of their plan offerings to provide new choices for shoppers, such as coverage at out-of-state hospitals.
“Because of the astonishing success of kynect last year, more health insurers decided to get in the game,” said Gov. Beshear. “That increased competition is good news for Kentuckians looking for a good deal on health insurance. To get the best price and benefits for your family, we strongly encourage people to visit kynect. Even if you’re happy with the plan you enrolled in last year, you may find a less expensive policy or one with a broader network of providers by shopping again.”
“We made tremendous headway last year, but we still have thousands of Kentuckians who need insurance for themselves and for their families,” said Banahan. “Not only do we encourage first-time insurance buyers to check out kynect online, by phone or in-person with an insurance agent or kynector, we are also strongly encouraging those who enrolled last year to check out the plans available for 2015. You could get a bigger subsidy, a lower monthly cost, or more network options if you shop again.”
Policyholders may find that their premiums are going up, going down, staying the same or fluctuating slightly. Health care costs for the individual market typically increased about 8 percent or more per year before the Affordable Care Act – and there were no subsidies or discounts to help defray costs then as there are now. Changes in costs, whether up or down, are to be expected.
Private health insurance policies sold through kynect don’t have a single so-called “sticker price.” There is no “average” price, or an average increase or decrease for the plan costs, because many factors go into determining the cost to an individual. Variables like the type of plan, where people live, if they smoke, how old they are, household income and family size all influence costs to individuals. Policies are also available in four different “metal” levels – bronze, silver, gold and platinum – with varying levels of deductibles and monthly premiums.
With all those variables in the mix, kynect offers some 70,000 different rates.
Discounts available for most individuals and families
Household income alone determines the amount of any discount. An individual earning up to $46,680 a year will qualify for a discount; a family of four earning up to $95,400 will also receive a discount.
To help illustrate what’s available, Gov. Beshear provided several scenarios of individuals seeking insurance through kynect and their possible costs:
· A 22-year-old college student earning $18,000 per year could get a monthly subsidy of $104, lowering his monthly cost to $20.
· A 35-year-old single parent of two children earning $35,000 per year could get a monthly subsidy of $240, lowering her monthly cost to $93.
· A family of four earning $65,000 per year could get a monthly subsidy of $249, lowering their monthly cost to $336.
· A retired couple earning $50,000 per year could get a monthly subsidy of $526, lowering their monthly cost to $160.
Individuals can decide among several health plan options with differing monthly premiums. Keeping monthly premium costs low generally means slightly higher out-of-pocket costs (such as deductibles and co-insurance); likewise, a comparatively higher monthly premium usually means lower out-of-pocket costs for things like office visits and prescriptions.
“There’s been a lot of fear-mongering about costs of health insurance after the Affordable Care Act, but it’s clear that with the kynect discounts, health insurance can be affordable for Kentuckians who need it most, many of whom were previously denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition,” said Audrey Tayse Haynes, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
For Kentuckians who enrolled in Medicaid, there’s no need to go back to kynect unless household income has changed or they want to use a different Medicaid managed care organization.
State’s health improving, more health related jobs
Nearly one year after Kentuckians started using their new health insurance, it’s clear that the Affordable Care Act has already made significant, positive impacts on both individual health and on the state’s economy.
The Cabinet for Health and Family Services has tracked health outcomes in the Medicaid population. Since January, adult preventive services, such as well visits and flu shots, have increased nearly 37 percent over 2013 rates. Breast cancer screenings are up 20 percent over last year’s numbers, and colorectal cancer screenings have increased nearly 17 percent. Adult dental visits are up by more than a third.
“Big increases in screenings and checkups mean that potentially serious problems, like precancerous cells and prediabetes, are caught early and can be treated immediately, possibly avoiding surgeries or other major interventions,” said Medicaid Commissioner Lawrence Kissner. “Not only is that better for patient health, it’s far less expensive to treat an early stage disease or avoid it altogether than to wait until symptoms emerge or worsen.”
More Kentuckians are now working in health-related jobs. From July 2013 to July 2014, an additional 3,000 jobs have been created in core health care services in Kentucky, as well as almost 8,000 additional jobs in administrative and support services.
This transformation in the health care landscape has had an overwhelmingly positive fiscal impact on all areas of health care, including rural hospitals. The combination of dramatic decreases in indigent care and corresponding increases in payments has bolstered many providers’ bottom line. From state fiscal year 2013 to fiscal year 2014 alone, total payments to providers increased 13 percent from $5.5 billion to $6.2 billion. Hospital revenues alone increased 20 percent.
As a result of Medicaid expansion, payments to hospitals have unequivocally increased for hospitals in both rural and urban areas, with few exceptions. As for indigent care, the decreasing number of uninsured patients has led to a proportionate decrease in the potential cost of uncompensated care for hospitals and for medical providers.
“We have said all along that expanding Medicaid and running our own state exchange would help Kentuckians get healthier while also saving the state money and creating thousands of new jobs,” said Gov. Beshear. “We are now seeing better health outcomes for Kentuckians, better compensation for hospitals and medical providers, and more jobs to support the health care industry. It’s good news for our collective health and for our state’s economy.”
Visit https://kynect.ky.gov/ or call 1-855-4kynect (459-6328) to learn more about affordable health care options for Kentuckians.