Changes to Medicaid in Kentucky were discussed at a summit this week at the fairgrounds. | Photo by Darla Carter

As the state begins to implement its overhaul of Medicaid, it is seeking buy-in from businesses in Louisville and across Kentucky to help the program with its “community engagement,” or work requirement, to succeed.

Gov. Matt Bevin and other officials and partners in the effort headlined a state summit last week in Louisville that brought together members of the business community like UPS and others, such as Metro United Way and Greater Louisville Inc.

Bevin said many eyes are on Kentucky as it implements the program. “The world is watching us — the nation is watching us — and we’re going to get it right.”

But he acknowledged that some mistakes will be made. “We’re going to learn as we go, and that’s all right.”

Speakers from around the state included Hugh Haydon, chairman of the Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board, which advises the governor on workforce training and development issues. He urged businesses to get involved in the state’s Section 1115 Medicaid waiver, also known as the Kentucky HEALTH program.

“For this program to succeed, employers have to be fully engaged,” said Haydon, president of Kentucky BioProcessing, a biotechnology company in Owensboro.

As people get trained and educated and look for opportunities, “Employers have to be there ready to take those people into their facilities,” Haydon said. “We’re ready to do that,” he said of his company.

UPS has package handler jobs available for part-time workers. | Photo by Boris Ladwig

During the summit, UPS workforce development manager Pat Murphy spoke about the challenge of finding enough employees for UPS, a common refrain of employers. “That’s a struggle here locally,” said Murphy, a fellow member of the Workforce Innovation Board. “It’s a struggle across the state” and “not just a struggle for UPS.”

Afterward, when asked how UPS might use Medicaid recipients, a company spokesman noted that UPS has 20-hour-per-week package handler jobs available on a variety of shifts. In the Louisville area, UPS is offering $10.35 per hour, plus a $250 weekly bonus, he said.

The state is promoting PATH, an aspect of its Medicaid makeover, as a partial solution to companies’ workforce woes.

PATH (Partnering to Advance Training and Health) will require some Medicaid recipients to put in 80 hours a month, or roughly 20 hours a week, of community engagement, such as working, getting job training, going to school, care giving, volunteering or getting treated for substance abuse.

“It does not have to be all 20 hours per week, 80 hours per month in one activity,” said Kristi Putnam, Kentucky HEALTH program manager. “It can be a combination of any of these activities,” including actively looking for employment.

The state says it will roll out PATH gradually across the state, starting with Campbell County in northern Kentucky July 1 and reaching Louisville in October. Most of the state will have it by the end of the year under current plans.

It could be derailed, however, by the lawsuit of 15 Medicaid recipients, who argue that the federal approval of Kentucky’s waiver violates the Social Security Act and Medicaid Act and endangers the health care of tens of thousands of low-income families in the state.

But state officials told summit-goers they hope KentuckyHEALTH would improve health outcomes and Kentucky’s woeful health statistics and get people more focused on preventive health care.

“If only one out of every 10 of people on Medicaid in the state even take advantage of a primary care visit, a wellness check, an annual checkup … something that’s free and available to them — we’re failing them somehow,” Bevin said at the summit. “… We’ve got to get people engaged.”

Kristi Putnam, deputy secretary, Cabinet for Health and Family Services | Photo by Darla Carter

Putnam, a deputy secretary in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, sold the program as a way to increase workforce participation in the state and help employers.

“This is access to a talent pool,” Putnam said. “We estimate more than 150,000 Kentuckians — and that’s being on the conservative side — are going to be added to the potential workforce.”

Also, such recipients will receive skills assessments through the state’s Kentucky Career Centers and have access to other resources as well, she said.

The summit followed a news conference announcing that the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, a nonprofit in Louisville, would be working with the state to keep Medicaid recipients from falling off the Medicaid rolls.

The summit provided an opportunity for participants to get an overview of Kentucky HEALTH, meet and greet each other, ask questions and possibly open doors to collaborations to help people affected by the Medicaid changes.

“A lot of you, for example, are creating training programs on your own,” said Adam Meier, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. “What we want to do today is foster collaboration. We want to get you connected with our local workforce boards and our workforce chairs, with our career centers, so that you guys can think about  how you can leverage your resources together.”

Deana Epperly Karem, a vice president for regional economic growth at GLI, said the summit “was extremely helpful in achieving a deeper understanding about how the process will work and how GLI can support our employers and our community.”

The community engagement program could be beneficial, she said, because “supporting this population in their efforts to find jobs is going to help fill the nearly 27,000 job postings we have in our region each month. And by connecting and supporting them in their efforts to find work, and ways to improve their individual life, they will be exposed to opportunities to make a difference in their community and broaden their skillsets.”

Other summit attendees included Michael Gritton, executive director of KentuckianaWorks, the Workforce Development Board for the Louisville region. KentuckianaWorks will be working with the Kentucky Career Centers (no longer known as the unemployment office) to help residents meet the community engagement requirement.

Michael Gritton

He said there are jobs available in the Louisville area, but it’s unclear what skill level the Medicaid recipients affected by the requirement will have. Possibly half of them will lack a high school degree or GED, making them low-skilled when the state actually has more need for middle-skilled workers, he said.

“The state is offering us some money to train them, and we won’t know until we get into the work, how much of that money are we really going to need,” Gritton said. He said he suspects they’ll have to go back to the state to ask for more dollars for training of the Medicaid recipients.

The summit, a pilot, will be replicated in each of the state’s local workforce development areas for various employers and community organizations as the state puts Kentucky HEALTH into place. That means Louisville will have its own summit, but no date has been set.

Meanwhile, community organizations are watching. “We want to make sure the people this is intended to help are truly helped,” said John Blair, chief brand officer for Metro United Way.