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Thousands of Kentuckians have lost their jobs and health insurance due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. They have found themselves in sudden need of affordable health coverage, food, and other kinds of assistance. Medicaid, which offers help with health care, has a simplified enrollment process that can completed online. Access to assistance from the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program (KCHIP), providing free or low-cost health coverage for children in households with low and moderate incomes, is also available right now.

To help Kentucky families during this unprecedented time, here are answers to questions frequently received by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS), which oversees the Medicaid, KCHIP and other programs designed to help individuals and families.

Do we qualify for Medicaid or KCHIP?

If you have become unemployed since the onset of COVID-19, presume that you do. To provide more help during this global pandemic, something called Presumptive Eligibility, or PE, has been put into place. PE provides a faster path to connect Kentuckians with temporary Medicaid benefits. PE is also helping make sure that providers receive payment more quickly.

PE is temporary and might be thought of as connecting Kentuckians with “just to get you started” benefits. The PE application asks only for minimal information, just enough to activate Medicaid coverage for people who need help, and quickly. Applicants will need to complete the full Medicaid application as soon as they are able.

How do I enroll?

Medicaid and KCHIP are open for enrollment all year long. Kentucky, like all states, looks at current monthly income, so recently unemployed people should be able to enroll. To get help enrolling, call 1-855-459-6328 or visit benefind.ky.gov.

What information will I need to have ready to apply?

Applicants will need to provide information such as name, date of birth, and gender for all members of the household. Also needed: Information about all sources of income received by household members and whether individuals have other insurance.

Can I qualify even if I own a house, car or other assets?

For most people, income is the primary basis of eligibility. Owning a house or other asset does not count unless you are eligible as a low-income senior (over 65 years of age) or are disabled.

How long will it take to enroll?

Many states’ agencies have been inundated with requests for help, and their call center response times may be longer than usual. In Kentucky, dozens of helpers have been added to answer these calls.

“Six months ago, the average on-hold time was over 40 minutes,” noted Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Eric Friedlander. He added, “This was unacceptable.”

To address the issue, an accelerated training program was developed to bring employees up to speed on Medicaid and other programs. They were also trained on telephony software before they began answering calls that now number over one million since the beginning of the year. Wait times have greatly improved.

Enrolling online is best and fastest, but help from the call center, assisters and others is also an option.

Once an application is submitted, the state has up to 45 days to process it.

“The good news is that once you are enrolled, Medicaid coverage is effective back to the date of your application,” said Medicaid Commissioner Lisa Lee. “If you have outstanding medical expenses, Medicaid may also cover these expenses as long as they were incurred within 90 days prior to your application date.

Kentuckians who have claims made within 90 days of enrollment will need to request “retroactive” Medicaid.

“We’re here to help walk people through the process,” Lee said.

What if I earn too much to qualify for Medicaid or KCHIP but can’t afford private health insurance?

Many individuals are eligible for financial assistance in purchasing a private health plan through the Affordable Care Act health insurance Marketplaces. Typically, consumers can only enroll in Marketplace coverage during the annual open enrollment period, unless they experience a life change such as losing health insurance, getting married, or moving. Many of the millions of people who have recently lost their jobs also lost their job-based insurance. These individuals have a 60-day window in which to sign up for Marketplace coverage.

However, many who lost their jobs may not have coverage through their employer. (Fewer than 30 percent of small businesses offer health insurance to their employees). Absent another life change, these individuals would not automatically qualify for a special enrollment opportunity.

Visit the health insurance Marketplace for more information, including COVID-19: www.healthcare.gov/coronavirus.

Can we sign up for Medicaid, KCHIP or marketplace health coverage if we are not U.S. citizens?

In most states, legal permanent residents are eligible for Medicaid if they have been in the U.S. for at least five years. However, some states choose to cover lawfully residing children and pregnant women without the five-year wait.

“We are pleased to share that Kentucky is among these states,” Friedlander said. “You can help by spreading this word to someone who might not be aware.”

Additionally, Medicaid covers emergency services for immigrants who would otherwise be eligible if they meet other guidelines, such as income level.

What other programs are available?

Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, helps individuals and families stretch their food budget and buy healthy foods. Many Kentucky farmers’ markets accept SNAP benefits.

School-age children who receive free or reduced-price meals during the regular school year through the National School Lunch Program can receive temporary food benefits through the Pandemic EBT program.

Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program, or KTAP, provides cash assistance to very low-income families with children to help pay for basic needs.

Information about these programs, including enrollment applications, may be found at www.benefind.ky.gov or by calling 1-855-306-8959, (TTY: 1-800-627-4720). Language and other assistance is also available.