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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

The Uninsured in Kentucky

Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes disagreed at their Oct. 13 debate on how many Kentuckians had gained health insurance through the state exchange. McConnell disputed that the state website has insured 521,000 people. Grimes, meanwhile, said those half a million people had insurance for the first time.

More than half a million people have signed up for coverage through the Kynect website for both private insurance and Medicaid, but Grimes is wrong to say they were all previously uninsured. Through the end of the open-enrollment period, 75 percent of Kentuckians who had signed up for coverage indicated they had been uninsured prior to gaining insurance through Kynect. That’s according to numbers provided to FactCheck.org by the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

During the debate, McConnell said he would be fine with continuing the Kynect website, even though he opposes the Affordable Care Act (around the 34:30 mark). He said it was a “state decision” and the state “can continue it if they’d like to,” though Kentucky would “have to pay for it.” When asked by moderator and TV journalist Bill Goodman if he’d continue Kynect, McConnell said, “Yeah, I think it’s fine to have a website.”

It’s a website that Goodman then noted had “also insured 521,000.” McConnell said, “No, it hasn’t.” Later, when Goodman said 85,000 of those had private insurance, McConnell asked: “How many of them, though, got insurance after having policies canceled?”

We don’t know how many had received cancellation notices from their insurance companies because their plans didn’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s minimum benefit requirements, and then decided to purchase coverage through the Kynect website. But we do know that some of those who signed up through Kynect — 25 percent — said they had been previously insured.

A Gallup poll released in August found Kentucky had experienced the second largest drop in the percentage of uninsured among the states from 2013 to mid-2014. Kentucky’s percentage of uninsured went from 20.4 percent to 11.9 percent, a drop of 8.5 percentage points, second to only the decline in Arkansas, according to the telephone survey.

Grimes, however, echoed a common Democratic talking point in assuming that all those who got coverage through the exchange were newly insured. She said: “We have over half a million Kentuckians who for the first time ever are filling prescriptions. They are going to the doctor and they’re getting checkups. I will not be a senator that rips that insurance from their hand. I will work to fix the Affordable Care Act.”

The state Cabinet for Health and Family Services told us that between Oct. 1, 2013, and April 15, 2014 — the open enrollment period — 413,410 Kentuckians enrolled in health coverage through Kynect. Of those, 330,615 qualified for Medicaid coverage and 82,795 bought private insurance. Three-quarters of all those signing up indicated they had been uninsured prior to getting coverage through the website.

That would mean that as of April 15, there were about 310,000 uninsured Kentuckians who were covered through Kynect. The total enrollment number is now more than 521,000. If the 75 percent figure remained constant, then there would be about 391,000 previously uninsured people who now have coverage.

— Lori Robertson