MURRAY – Qualified individuals and families have until Jan. 15 to sign up for state benefits through the kynect health insurance marketplace.

After the passage of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, former Gov. Steve Beshear launched Kentucky’s health insurance exchange under the kynect name in 2013. Former Gov. Matt Bevin discontinued the program in 2017, but it was relaunched in October 2020 under Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration. According to kynect.ky.gov, those who qualify can use the program to sign up for Medicaid, Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program (KCHIP), Qualified Health Plan with payment assistance (Medicaid/KCHIP/APTC/CSR) and Time-limited Medicaid, among others.

Gregg Knight of West Kentucky Allied Services Inc. is the program manager for kynect, also known as the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange (KHBE), for the eight counties in the Jackson Purchase. To be signed up by Jan. 1, she said customers must sign up by Dec. 15, but Jan. 15 is the open enrollment deadline, and those benefits would take effect Feb. 1.

There are nine KHBE navigators – or “kynectors” – in the Purchase area who can help people determine what benefits they qualify for, with two people assigned to McCracken County. Calloway County’s navigator is Pam Gray, and Knight said anyone needing her assistance may contact her at 270-978-4392.

“We are busy, obviously, during this time period, especially since we have converted and people from the federal marketplace, healthcare.gov, have now been brought over to kynect,” Knight said. “We are in the process of getting in contact with our clients – or “residents” – and making sure that their income has been updated and they are getting the tax credit they are entitled to for the 2022 plan.”

Knight said that kynect’s insurance provider is CareSource, and she noted that unfortunately, no doctors in this area currently take that insurance.

“There are a couple of hospitals (that take CareSource) and we counted about 55 optometrists that are accepting it, but not the doctors,” Knight said. “We’re still in a monopoly situation (with Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield), so prices aren’t as competitive as they would be if we had two different providers at the same time. So some people are still getting sticker shock, and we’re trying to lessen that blow by looking at some different plans. (The Affordable Care Act has) expanded the bronze plan. It’s called the expanded bronze, and it allows you to go to the doctor and have at least one incident without having to meet the deductible. So that is a great new avenue to take since the prices are a little higher than were expected.”

Since prices are more competitive in central and eastern Kentucky, Knight said the state is hoping to get more providers on board for western Kentucky in the future, but there is currently no estimated time frame for when that might happen. In the meantime, kynectors will help residents to find the plan that is most affordable and meets their specific needs.

“You have to decide what’s most important for you,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s a specialist they have to see and sometimes it’s a particular drug they need to take. So we just have to do a whole lot more investigation to figure out exactly which plan would meet their needs. It’s different every year, so that’s why we have them come back in and take a look at the plans (each new enrollment period).”

Despite these problems, Knight said one of the big benefits of kynect is that it is a one-stop shop.

“You fill out one application and it goes through all the different programs that you might possibly be eligible for,” she said. “So, for instance, when somebody comes to us and we fill out the application, it’s first looking to see if they’re qualified for Medicaid. If they’re not, then it looks to see if they’re qualified for the Qualified Health Plan with a PTC (premium tax credit) or without, so it’s actually checking those three things simultaneously, and then you have the ability to apply for SNAP, for food stamps, or KTAP (Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program) or the Child Care Assistance Program. So instead of having to do an application for each one of those programs, now kynect will look at all of those simultaneously.”