FRANKFORT, Ky. - Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has decided to expand Medicaid, he announced Thursday, calling the action "the single-most important decision in our lifetime for improving the health of Kentuckians."
The move means 308,000 more Kentuckians will be included in the federal Medicaid health insurance program. Together with the creation of the state's Health Benefit Exchange, the decision will ensure that every Kentucky resident will have access to affordable health insurance, the governor's office said in a news release.
The expansion also will create nearly 17,000 new jobs and have a $15.6 billion positive economic impact on the state from the time it starts during the state's 2014 fiscal year and its full implementation in 2021, according to the release.
"I have repeatedly said that I believe it is in the best interest of the Commonwealth and its citizens to provide better access to health care for our people. My only concern was the cost," Beshear said in the release. "We have now done the exhaustive research – and our conclusion matched what most other states have found: by expanding Medicaid, Kentucky will come out ahead in terms of both health outcomes and finances. In fact, if we don't expand Medicaid, we will lose money."
Scores of health care organizations, foundations and nonprofits across Kentucky supported the expansion. Local supporters included Women's Crisis Center, the Northern Kentucky nonprofit that helps victims of domestic violence, rape and sexual abuse.
"Many of our clients coming in don't have any kind of health coverage at all – zero," said Marsha Croxton, the center's executive director.
And many need counseling for mental health or substance abuse problems, which the Women's Crisis Center doesn't have the expertise to provide for free, Croxton said.
"They can't get any help," she said. "It's very frustrating. And it's hard for them to move on in life."
Medicaid currently provides health care for low-income and disabled Kentucky residents. The federal Affordable Care Act was designed to expand Medicaid to help provide universal health coverage. But a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year left that decision up to the individual states.
As a result, each state has the option of expanding Medicaid eligibility for anyone who earns up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That amounts to an income of up to $15,856 per year for a single person with no children or a household income of up to $32,499 for a family of four.
The expansion in Kentucky will take effect Jan. 1, 2014. More details about what Medicaid expansion could mean in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana are available here . (Mobile users can find additional information at the following link: http://www.wcpo.com/dpp/news/local_news/primer-what-medicaid-expansion-could-mean-in-ohio-ky-and-ind .)
Beshear said in the release that he hopes the expansion will help improve the state's dismal health rankings. Kentucky is at or near the bottom of many national health rankings. The state is 50th in smoking, 40th in obesity, 41st in diabetes, 50th in cancer deaths, 49th in heart disease and 48th in heart attacks.
"I, for one, am tired of being at the bottom," Beshear said in the release. "Giving every Kentuckian access to affordable health coverage will help us tackle these abysmal health outcomes. Our poor health has contributed to us being a poor state. Improved health care will help improve our education levels and job opportunities."
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