Kentucky begins phasing in new Medicaid requirements in July, and health officials have been holding "stakeholder forums" across the commonwealth to educate enrollees and health care professionals on the ins and out of the new policies.
Under the state’s first-of-its-kind Medicaid 1115 waiver, some able-bodied beneficiaries will be responsible for modest monthly premiums and meeting what are known as “community engagement” provisions – things like work, volunteer, caregiving, treatment, or job training hours.
Those prerequisites proved the most divisive part of the Kentucky HEALTH program in the months following their announcement, with detractors mounting a lawsuit against the experiment in January alleging that the waiver has "effectively rewritten" the federal Medicaid law. Gov. Matt Bevin's administration filed its own lawsuit defending the waiver, which critics argue erects new barriers to coverage for the state's most vulnerable.
At an informational meeting in Cincinnati Thursday, Deputy Secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services Kristi Putnam pushed back against one phrase.
"We very specifically do not say 'work requirement,'" she said. "We say community engagement because it is intended to be an individual engaging with their community through perhaps education or training or accessing resources."
Bevin says the waiver will help able-bodied Medicaid recipients transition from government assistance to employer or private insurance while giving them a stake in their healthcare.
"For those that are able to be engaged in their own health outcomes, we want them to be, because there’s dignity and self-respect that is offered to people through the ability for people to do for themselves," the governor told PBS.
With the program set to debut in Campbell County July 1, Putnam says the Cabinet is taking a cautious approach to rolling out the changes and the accompanying systems.
"Something that we learned very early on as an administration is when it comes to technology, it's better to implement things gradually and not do a big bang, so we've been trying to implement pieces of the technology that support Kentucky HEALTH in a much more gradual and careful way," Putnam said.
The state’s rocky rollout of Benefind, a one-stop online portal for benefits, led to coverage disruptions and long wait times in 2016.
Thursday marked the fourth Medicaid stakeholder meeting. More are planned throughout the year in Frankfort and other communities spanning the state. Last month, the nonprofit Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky announced it's partnering with the administration to help beneficiaries maintain coverage by providing work and volunteer opportunities and aiding some with monthly premium payments.
For more information on who's affected by the changes, visit the state's Kentucky HEALTH website.