FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — At least two new insurance companies say they want to sell policies on Kentucky's state-run health exchange after more than 421,000 people signed up for health insurance during the first round of open enrollment.
Residents can go to the website, known as kynect, to sign up for the state's Medicaid program or purchase discounted private health insurance plans, depending on their income. It is part of the federal Affordable Care Act, the health care legislation championed by President Barack Obama that has been fiercely opposed by others, including conservative Republicans, since the day it was passed.
While the federal health insurance exchange had many technical problems, Kentucky's exchange ran smoothly. Obama even used it as an example in his State of the Union address.
But the options were limited on Kentucky's exchange, as only two companies sold policies statewide. A third company, Louisville-based Humana, sold policies only in certain areas of Kentucky. One company - Kentucky Health Cooperative - sold 77 percent of the private insurance plans purchased on kynect.
But now Ohio-based CareSource and Florida-based WellCare have filed paperwork with state regulators indicating their interest in selling policies through kynect. Both companies provide Medicaid plans in Kentucky but have not sold on the individual market.
"We're obviously pleased with additional competition. The market is good for consumers," said Maggie Woods, director of health and life insurance for the state Department of Insurance.
WellCare is already the state's largest Medicaid plan, serving about 372,000 people. WellCare of Kentucky president Kelly Munson said they are interested in selling private plans on the exchange because they don't want to lose customers "who will undoubtedly move between Medicaid and the exchange."
CareSource already sells policies through Ohio's federal health care exchange, selling to 36,000 people in the first year of enrollment.
"It's a natural fit for us, a bordering state," said Jon Copley, executive director for CareSource's Kentucky market. "We think our rates will be very competitive."
Both companies still must be approved by state regulators before they can begin selling on the exchange. But state officials say their applications are more proof the exchange is working. In a speech Tuesday morning in Washington, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said even Republicans are embracing kynect.
"Another thing we did was carefully separate the politics of the Affordable Care Act from the health care impact of kynect. That was a very fine line to walk. And, I'm still walking it," he said. "Now that we have 421,000 potential voters in Kentucky signed up for health care, our senators and others seem to be looking at it a little differently."
But state Sen. Julie Denton, the Republican chairwoman of the state Senate Health and Welfare Committee, said the fact that new companies are selling on the exchange does not validate anything. She noted that about 338,000 of the 421,000 kynect enrollees signed up for Medicaid "and they are not paying anything."
"Our system may be working in terms of doing what the exchange was designed and intended to do," Denton said. "But that doesn't mean everybody has affordable coverage and it certainly doesn't mean that people were able to keep their doctors and to keep their plans, as not everybody did."