Politics

Kentucky Medicaid beneficiaries and other welfare recipients will apply for services using a new website called Benefind starting Feb. 29.

Medicaid recipients previously applied for benefits using Kynect, the state health exchange that Gov. Matt Bevin has promised to dismantle by the end of the year.

Health and Human Services Cabinet Vickie Yates Glisson said the plan does away with the paper-version of the application — the program will be entirely online.

“Whether you live in any of our 120 counties, there should be access to a computer system that you will be able to come in and access these programs,” Glisson said.

The new program will also serve as an application hub for other state health, food and cash assistance programs, replacing the Kentucky Automated Management Eligibility System.

Over the three years that Kynect has been open, the state has spent about $330 million operating Kynect, but the system was mostly funded through federal grants, according to the Health Cabinet.

Glisson called Kynect “unsustainable.”

“Those favorable federal dollars are now ending. We have to maintain it, we have to operate it,” Glisson said.

“They gave it to us and they said, ‘Now it is yours to maintain and operate.’ And that comes at a heavy cost.”

The federal government gave Kentucky a $289 million to create Kynect. Glisson said the state will have to return $39 million in unused funds, though last week federal officials said the state would have to return $57 million.

Democratic lawmakers clashed with Glisson during a committee hearing on Tuesday.

Rep. Joni Jenkins, a Louisville Democrat, said she’s concerned that people will fall off the healthcare rolls and return to their status before the Affordable Care Act.

“People were getting healthcare — they were just getting it through the most expensive way possible which is through the emergency room,” Jenkins said.

Kentucky experienced one of the greatest drops in the uninsured population, going from over 20 percent in 2013 to 7.5 percent at the end of 2015.

Glisson says that Benefind will direct those seeking qualified health care plans to the federal health exchange, healthcare.gov.

Meanwhile the state’s new Medicaid commissioner said that the cost of the Medicaid program — one of the largest expenditures in the budget —will cost about 20 percent more over the next two years, rising to over $3.7 billion

Rep. Jim Wayne, another Louisville Democrat, said that the state could afford these programs and more if it revised its tax system.

“If people who are as wealthy as the governor would pay their fair share in state and local taxes, we know that these type of programs could easily be sustainable,” Wayne said.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.