Politics

More than 2,000 Kentuckians will have to pay more to receive Medicaid benefits that help them avoid nursing homes. The news comes after state officials said they’ve been charging the incorrect amount for over half a decade.

The change is scheduled to take effect on August 1 and applies to people with disabilities who receive at-home and community-based Medicaid services in Kentucky and make more than $750 per month.

Kentucky Health Cabinet officials say that for more than 5 years, the state hasn’t been collecting the correct amount for the “patient liability”— the amount beneficiaries have to pay every month.

Jill Hunter, Kentucky’s acting Medicaid commissioner, told a legislative committee on Wednesday that officials weren’t aware of the discrepancy until recently and didn’t send out notices to beneficiaries until May.

“I suspect somewhere in the middle of redesign it fell back behind the highest fire for the day,” Hunter said.

Hunter said the cabinet initially sent notices out to people who weren’t in the program, creating confusion. Corrected letters were sent out on June 29.

The liability is calculated based on how much money an individual makes above $770 per month and after subtracting deductions.

According to a table distributed by the cabinet, the largest group of affected beneficiaries — 888 people — will have to pay between $1 and $150 per month; 701 people will have to pay between $266 and $500 per month.

Ryland Barton | wfpl.org

According to a chart distributed but the cabinet, 888 people will have to pay between $1 and $150 per month; 701 people will have to pay between $266 and $500 per month.

There are also 13 people who will have to pay liabilities greater than $1,501 per month.

Gwen Bryant has liver and kidney disease and said she won’t be able to come up with the money.

“I can’t afford to pay the difference in what Medicaid covers to cover my dialysis, not to mention the assistance I need in my home,” Bryant said. “So I’ll have to die. They say I have to come up with this money and I can’t. There’s no way I can.”

Caroline Wheeler is a limited guardian for Linda Montgomery, a Louisville woman who has received disability benefits since 2008.

She said the changes will discourage beneficiaries from trying to increase their incomes.

“The word on the street will be don’t go to work because you’ll just increase your patient liability,” Wheeler said.

“It will be a great disincentive to people on the waivers. If they hear that something will go up and they have a loss even if they have more money, it’s less likely they will go to work.”

Several lawmakers raised concerns with the sudden change in policy. Paducah Republican Sen. Danny Carroll called for Gov. Matt Bevin to delay implementation.

“I see this as an immediate emergency that needs to be dealt with and if it’s the governor’s office with an executive order this week, this is not something that can wait until this week,” Carroll said.

“There are people who could be, their health could be significantly affected by this immediately. We can’t wait to fix this, it’s got to be done yesterday.”

Kentucky’s Health Cabinet has been juggling a series of changes over the last year.

The at-home and community-based Medicaid programs have been under review for possible changes, a federal court blocked Bevin’s policy requiring some Medicaid recipients to work or volunteer to keep benefits, and several top health officials have left their positions.

In early 2016, the cabinet struggled with the roll-out of Benefind, the state’s new system that manages eligibility for social services like Medicaid and food assistance.

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