Joining expanded Medicaid would benefit Kentucky

SUSAN G. ZEPEDA Published:

In the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision upholding much of the Affordable Care law, states have many factors to weigh. Importantly, SCOTUS affirmed the right of states to opt out of the expansion in Medicaid coverage envisioned under Affordable Care, without penalty. Some state and national leaders have been heard to say that the poor are “already covered under Medicaid.”

Currently, nearly 15 percent of Kentuckians lack health insurance, including approximately 290,000 low-income adults who are currently uninsured and would be eligible for the Medicaid expansion. It may surprise many to know that about 8 out of 10 uninsured Kentuckians are working adults. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Kentucky could benefit the most, compared to other states, as a result of the Medicaid expansion—with about 57 percent of our uninsured adults newly eligible for coverage.

While many believe that Medicaid provides coverage for all low-income individuals, Medicaid coverage is actually quite complex, with significant state-to-state variation.

In Kentucky:

Working parents are eligible for Medicaid only if they earn 62 percent or less of the federal poverty level –less than $8,926 per year for a family of two.

Jobless parents are eligible if their total income is 36 percent or less of the federal poverty level – less than $5,144 per year for a family of two.

Pregnant women are eligible for Medicaid if their income is up to 185 percent of federal poverty (about $20,665) but lose this eligibility – dropping to the lower income limits above – after the child is born.

Legal immigrants, child or adult, in the U.S. for less than five years, are not eligible for Medicaid coverage. (Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for Medicaid coverage regardless of how long they’ve been in the U.S.)

In short, not all Kentuckians living in poverty are covered by Medicaid. If Kentucky does not take the option of expanding Medicaid, many individuals and families living in low-income and poor households will be left without health insurance access.

The new law also creates health insurance exchanges, and places limits on out-of-pocket expenses on health insurance depending on income level. While these subsidies will allow many low-income parents and individuals to purchase health insurance, they appear only to be available for families above the federal poverty level.

And other pieces of the law were developed with the assumption that all states would expand Medicaid coverage. Because of this assumption, cuts to other federal health funding are built into the continuing roll out of the Affordable Care law: For example, nationally Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) funding has provided an average of 95 percent of uncompensated care costs for state-owned hospitals; 69 percent of uncompensated care for local public hospitals; and 38 percent of uncompensated care for private hospitals. The law will reduce DSH funding by $14 billion over 10 years (starting in 2014). This funding decrease to key providers was supposed to be offset by the increase in Medicaid coverage, as the number of uninsured individuals seen at hospitals would drop significantly under the Medicaid expansion. If Kentucky opts out of the Medicaid expansion, however, state, local, and private hospitals could be faced with sharp increases in uncompensated care (care provided but not paid).

The coming months will present opportunities for our state leaders to look at the sometimes difficult health realities of our Commonwealth and make decisions that will best serve the health of all Kentuckians. To quote the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

Susan G. Zepeda is president/CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, a non-profit, non-partisan philanthropic organization that invests in communities and informs health policy through research, education and grant making.  

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