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January 11, 2018

Bevin's controversial plan to make Medicaid recipients work will get federal approval

Kentucky appears on the verge of winning approval for Gov. Matt Bevin's proposal to reshape the state's Medicaid plan after federal authorities announced Thursday that they will approve rules requiring some people on the government health plan to work or volunteer.Kentucky appears on the verge of winning approval for Gov. Matt Bevin's proposal to reshape the state's Medicaid plan after federal authorities announced Thursday that they will approve rules requiring some people on the government health plan to work or volunteer.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky appears on the verge of winning approval for Gov. Matt Bevin's proposal to reshape the state's Medicaid plan after federal authorities announced Thursday that they will approve rules requiring some people on the government health plan to work or volunteer.

The U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) announced early Thursday it will authorize "community engagement" requirements that Kentucky and a half-dozen other states are seeking to impose on some people who get health coverage through the federal-state health plan.

Such rules, never before approved by the federal government, are a key part of Bevin's plan to reshape Medicaid in Kentucky.

It's been 16 months since Bevin first proposed a sweeping overhaul of the state's $10 billion Medicaid plan that gets about 80 percent of its funds from the federal government, which must approve it. Medicaid covers about 1.4 million people in Kentucky including poor children, adults, disabled individuals and elderly people in nursing homes.

Kentucky Medicaid Commissioner Stephen Miller said Thursday the decision by federal authorities is key to winning final approval for the Bevin's proposal known as Helping to Engage and Achieve Long Term Health, or Kentucky HEALTH.

“We are excited about the new guidance issued by CMS to allow states the flexibility to pursue innovative approaches to improve the health and well-being of Medicaid beneficiaries," Miller said. "This guidance is a critical step to moving the Kentucky HEALTH program forward."

But it was slammed by U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, a Louisville Democrat who supports the current Medicaid program and its expansion under the Affordable Care Act that added coverage for nearly a half-million Kentuckians. He said the changes will force many to lose health coverage.

"My only hope is that the chaos caused by this policy and the desperation of the Kentucky families who will soon lose their only access to health coverage will force Gov. Bevin to demonstrate some level of compassion and reverse this disgraceful policy,” Yarmuth said.

Now that the work requirement has been approved, Miller said he expects "quick approval" of the state's proposal he said will help "Medicaid beneficiaries improve their social, educational, and health outcomes.”

Bevin's proposal would require some adults to work or volunteer at least 20 hours a week to keep health benefits, saying it will inject more personal responsibility into the government health plan and believes participants should have some "skin in the game."

But the requirements have been controversial with health advocates who say many people on Medicaid, a plan for low income or disabled people, already work at low wage jobs that don't come with health coverage. They argue that new restrictions and reporting requirements will cause many people to lose Medicaid health coverage.

Advocates say the work requirement and other changes will cause up to 95,000 Kentuckians to lose health coverage, according to the administration's own calculations.

Health advocates oppose many of Bevin's proposed changes as unnecessary obstacles to health coverage in Kentucky, a poor state which had one the sharpest declines in the nation of people with no health insurance after Medicaid expanded to include more people under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

In addition to work or volunteer requirements, Bevin's plan includes copayments and premiums from many participants. People who don't comply with rules could lose coverage and be "locked out" for months.

A statement by Kentucky Voices for Health, a coalition of health advocacy groups, said it is monitoring the latest developments closely and expects Bevin's plan, known as a "waiver" to be approved soon. The organization will "be following this process closely and will send out an analysis of the approved waiver when it is released," it said.

The Washington Post reports Kentucky's plan could be approved as soon as Friday. 

Advocates also say the work rules are likely to face a legal challenge since federal law establishes Medicaid strictly as a health plan for the poor and disabled with no requirements that some members work or volunteer.

Bevin's work requirement is aimed largely at "able-bodied" adults added to Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and would exclude the elderly, disabled, medically frail or some caring for children or other relatives. The letter released Thursday by CMS authorizing work requirements contains similar language.

About 480,000 Kentuckians were added to Medicaid after the program was expanded under Obamacare to include anyone up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, an annual income of $16,643 for an individual.

Health advocates and state officials across the country had been watching closely to see whether Kentucky would win approval for the work requirement.

The decision comes after the nation's top Medicaid official, Seema Verma, in a Nov. 7 speech to state Medicaid directors, said federal officials had decided to approve such work requirements for any state seeking them.

Verma, as a private consultant, helped design Kentucky's Medicaid waiver proposal before joining the Trump administration. CMS has said she would not be involved in reviewing Kentucky's application.

Verma also designed Indiana's Medicaid plan. That state also is seeking a work requirement.

By Deborah Yetter
Louisville Courier Journal

 

SEE MORE HERE 

 

 

January 11, 2018

Letter calls on federal government to ensure customers receive benefits of reduced tax rate for Utilities

Refunds may be owed, message says


FRANKFORT, Ky. (Jan. 11, 2018) – Attorney General Andy Beshear today joined a bipartisan coalition of 18 state attorneys general, state agencies and consumer advocates in calling on the federal government to ensure Kentuckians, not public utilities, receive the benefits of the recently reduced federal corporate tax rate.



'...In the letter sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Beshear is asking the federal commission to reduce the rates public utilities charge – including electric, natural gas and oil companies – to ensure tax savings are passed on to Kentuckians.'

AG Andy Beshear and Gov. Matt Bevin shaking hands early in 2017. The two have been at odds on several key issues in the past.AG Andy Beshear and Gov. Matt Bevin shaking hands early in 2017. The two have been at odds on several key issues in the past.

 

The utility rates Kentuckians pay include utilities’ cost for federal income taxes. Without action by the federal commission, customers would continue to pay the same utility rate even though there has been a reduction of the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

If left unadjusted, customers in Kentucky and nationwide will overpay for their electric and gas services by hundreds of millions of dollars, Beshear said.

Kentuckians pay utilities’ taxes at the state and federal level. Ahead of today’s announcement, the Kentucky state agency that regulates public utilities, the Public Service Commission (PSC), issued orders to public utilities asking them to begin tracking their savings under the lower tax rates.

“Kentuckians were called upon to pay utility bills at the previous, higher tax rate, and now that the companies’ taxes are lower, all the savings should be returned immediately to each ratepayer,” Beshear said. “It is time for the federal government and the PSC to act quickly to protect Kentucky families.”

The utility rates Kentuckians pay include utilities’ cost for federal income taxes. Without action by the federal commission, customers would continue to pay the same utility rate even though there has been a reduction of the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.The utility rates Kentuckians pay include utilities’ cost for federal income taxes. Without action by the federal commission, customers would continue to pay the same utility rate even though there has been a reduction of the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.



The coalition also requested the federal commission open an investigation into the fairness of all applicable rates recovered by public utilities with respect to federal corporate income taxes.

By taking this action, the coalition believes customers should promptly receive the full economic benefit of the tax reduction. The coalition also asked the federal commission to review the amounts the utilities are holding in reserves to pay future tax liabilities, and set an immediate refund date and order appropriate rate relief to ratepayers.

The letter requests the federal commission act as quickly as possible to make any necessary changes and use its experience and expertise to determine the best ways to expedite this matter to safeguard customers.

Beshear’s Office of Rate Intervention serves as a watchdog for consumers in matters relating to health insurance, natural gas, water, sewer, electric and telephone rates. Under Kentucky law, the office is responsible for representing the interests of Kentucky consumers before governmental ratemaking agencies, concentrating on utility cases before PSC.

This month, Beshear’s office recommended that the PSC reduce the current rates Duke Energy charges its Kentucky customers by $16 million.

In 2017, Beshear announced that his Office of Rate Intervention entered into a settlement with LG&E and KU that will save Kentucky ratepayers $90 million annually – $33.2 million of that for residential customers. He also recommended the Public Service Commission deny AEP/Kentucky Power’s more than $60 million proposed increase.

Overall in 2017, Beshear’s office saved families over $96 million in increases to their utility bills.

Joining Attorney General Andy Beshear in sending the letter are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, as well as the Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel, the Florida Office of Public Counsel, the Maine Office of the Public Advocate, the New Hampshire Office of the Consumer Advocate, the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, and the Vermont Department of Public Service.

January 8, 2018

 

City workers fix blocked line but home owner disputes claim that problem is hers

LOUISA, Ky. -- A resident of one of Lawrence County's newest and most expensive neighborhoods is asking for answers as to why sewage is backing up from the city sewer system into her home.

Nicole Wells, who said she and her family purchased a home in the Levisa Drive subdivision in 2015 said she enjoys living here -- most of the time.

Here's her story:

"...We moved here in January of 2015 at the end of Levisa Drive. In the summers we generally have a sewage backup a few times but this is the first winter we have had continuous problems for 3 weeks straight.

"The week of Christmas the opposite side of the road from our house was leaking sewage and came to our side. We called and the city workers came out and fixed the pump. The next week the pipe in the picture exploded and popped off the cap causing poop to go flying everywhere," Mrs. Wells said."The week of Christmas the opposite side of the road from our house was leaking sewage and came to our side. We called and the city workers came out and fixed the pump. The next week the pipe in the picture exploded and popped off the cap causing poop to go flying everywhere," Mrs. Wells said.The week of Christmas the opposite side of the road from our house was leaking sewage and came to our side. We called and they came out and fixed the pump. The next week the pipe in the picture exploded and popped off the cap causing poop to go flying everywhere. They (city officials) say it is something wrong with the pump but if they know there is a problem, it isn’t getting fixed.

Then today when we flushed in the house it started backing up into our house until the cap came off.

The mayor is aware that we have pump issues on the road and has been contacted multiple times.

Some people on the street have the exact problems as we do and the city is saying it is the home builder's fault, but the problem is the city sewer if it is happening to multiple houses on this street -- and then even admitting the pump has something to do with it.

It constantly backs up on the road. This is the first time it has come into our house. Every time we flush it overflows in the front yard now.

We all just want a solution on Levisa Drive. I don’t want to cause problems but I feel like standing raw sewage even in freezing temps should have a high priority.


Mayor says city not to blame...

Despite Mrs. Wells' statement to the contrary, Louisa mayor Harold Slone said today that he was not aware of the ongoing problem and issued the following statement:

"...Not aware of any issue except pump going down a week or so ago and it was replaced. And then another problem at an individual residence sewer backup and we have scheduled some testing to be done to determine if it is a problem with our line (or the homeowner's) before digging up blacktop.

"...I was not aware of any other problems. I will check back through the work order system and see what I find and make contact with the guys now (today). They (city water workers) have been covered up the last two weeks but still I wasn't aware of consistent ongoing problems."

After Slone checked with Mrs. Wells today about 5:00pm, he sent city water workers to her home and it was discovered that it was indeed a problem with her private line, Slone said.

"The guys figured it out pretty quickly because they had already been aware of the flooding," Slone said. "We went ahead and helped her with it because we have the equipment to do it with."

Slone said the stopped up sewer line is now working properly and that the city sewer line is working like it is supposed to also. "She (Mrs. Wells) was very nice about it and when she understood what had happened, she thanked us," Slone said at 6:30 pm today.

But Mrs. Wells says she still thinks the city is at fault, not her.

"...There is no proof it is our line. When they cleaned it out today there were baby wipes which we do not flush and cigarette butts. We do not smoke. The mayor's call today was a bit on the rude side. It has been happening for many months mostly on the line opposite the street of ours where there is no house and now on our side. The last time it came out of the clean out on our side the sewer water was flowing out of the manhole and other clean outs a few hundred feet upstream from us and was on the verge of doing the same today. If the clog was on our line the main line should not be backed up. It’s ok for now though and it will happen again and everything will be documented so we can get to the bottom of this ongoing issue."

"There is no proof it is our house causing the problems," she added. "Someone is just covering their own butt on this one."

Homes in the neighborhood beside the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy are high dollar properties and residents pay top dollar city taxes.

Slone said the city has had numerous water leaks and frozen pipes as well as sewer problems since the historic cold spell hit the area almost a month ago. Many of the water and sewer lines in Louisa are nearly 100 years old and the problems are only going to get worse until a complete new system can be installed.