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Kelly O’Bryan came Tuesday to Elizabethtown Community and Technical College looking for answers.
O’Bryan, like other uninsured residents, has been excluded from health care coverage by circumstances outside of her control. She was hoping to glean clarification on her eligibility for enrollment under Kynect, Kentucky’s new health insurance marketplace exchange created to integrate the federal Affordable Care Act law, which takes effect next year.
Tuesday was the first day of open enrollment under the exchange, which is designed to offer a range of health plans “at a good value.”
O’Bryan has been without health insurance for around six years, losing eligibility after a battle with colon cancer, she said.
“I work and I do what I need to do, but I just fell in the cracks,” O’Bryan said. “I’m not eligible for anything.”
When she did have insurance, she said, she found it increasingly harder to afford as her co-pays became “ridiculous.”
Out of desperation, she took a part-time position in health care temporarily so she would be eligible for insurance.
“That about killed me because I was working two jobs,” she said.
Her teenage son also is uninsurable through private insurance because he has diabetes but has found coverage under Passport Health Plan. He is likely to be insured under the exchange and O’Bryan was seeking input on his ability to take out his own plan now that he is 18.
Coverage under the exchange will begin as early as January and open enrollment extends until March 31, 2014. The Affordable Care Act requires those 18 and older to obtain public or private insurance by next year or face penalties.
Under Kynect, coverage cannot be denied or canceled because of pre-existing conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, and offers alternatives for those who have been denied coverage in the past or cannot afford insurance.
ECTC partnered Tuesday with the Lincoln Trail Area Development District to distribute information on Kynect, help local residents enroll and answer any questions they might have about coverage, said Nancy Addington, director of the Area Agency on Aging at Lincoln Trail ADD.
Under the Affordable Care Act, discounts and tax credits may be available to help lower premiums depending on household income and size. Health plans through Kynect, meanwhile, will be offered in four metal categories: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Bronze plans have lower premiums and higher out-of-pocket costs while platinum plans will have higher premiums and lower out-of-pocket costs.
Jo Yates, human services program coordinator at ECTC, said interest in enrollment was brisk early with about 40 people inquiring about Kynect in the first hour.
Progress was stalled during the morning when online registration crashed under the stress of the high volume logging on to enroll. Several visitors provided contact information so they could be booked for a follow-up appointment while others stuck around to receive help.
Stacy Hollis, an Elizabethtown resident and ECTC student, noticed the booth between classes and explored her options. Hollis and her husband, Robert, have been without insurance for years because of pre-existing conditions: Hollis has high blood pressure while her husband has high blood pressure and high cholesterol, she said.
Any insurance plan she found that would cover them was unaffordable, she added.
“It was going to cost us way up there,” Hollis said.
With health care expenses growing at an exponential rate, Hollis believes the state exchange could serve as a godsend for those who have no insurance. At its most basic, Hollis believes everyone should be able to find affordable health plans.
“It shouldn’t matter how much money you make, what kind of job you have or how sick you are,” she said. “I think everyone should be treated the same.”
She encouraged those who are uninsured to explore their options under the exchange and see if there is a plan that works for them.
“You really have nothing to lose,” she said.