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Changes ahead in Harrison County health care

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By Josh Shepherd, News writer

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On the heels of Dr. Frank McKemie’s official retirement on Dec. 23 and the first wave of Kentuckians getting benefits through Kynect.com, the website of the Kentucky Health Benefits Exchange (HBE), there are many new changes in store for Harrison County’s health care services in the near future.

One of the most significant changes that people will notice in the coming year is the absence of two popular primary care providers, said Sheila Currans, hospital CEO.

Less than two weeks ago, McKemie sent a letter to his patients that he would officially retire from medicine at the end of December. Paired with Dr. Don Stephens untimely passing earlier this year, Harrison Countians have witnessed the conclusions of two remarkable medical careers.

Fortunately, their departure from the local service area has not left Harrison County without resources, Currans said.

In addition to Harrison County’s core group of primary care and internal medicine providers, Harrison Memorial purchased Stephen’s office on Pleasant Street and hired Shane Gainey, MD, as the clinic’s new primary care provider. Gainey already has a long history of service to local patients through the Emergency Room at HMH. Before becoming an ER physician, he operated his own family care clinic and is looking forward to the opportunity to provide family care. His experience in geriatrics treatment is a bonus, Currans said.

“With the addition of Dr. Gainey and Licking Valley Internal Medicine’s successful recruitment of Dr. Andy Usery, who began practicing in October, our community has not suffered a serious setback with the departure of Stephens and McKemie,” Currans said.

In fact, the new faces in primary care demonstrate the  medical staff’s commitment to ensure that the long term health care needs of the community are being met, she said.

The recent addition of new physicians and physician extenders in Harrison County are enough to meet current demands. But Currans said she and the medical staff concur that the HMH service area will need to add new primary care providers to meet increasing demands as the Kentucky HBE enrolls new people into health insurance or Medicaid rolls.

According to the most recent report from the Kentucky Health Benefits Exchange (HBE), over 100,000 people have been approved for Medicaid or health insurance through the HBE’s Kynect.com website.

In fact, according to Carrie Banahan, executive director of the HBE Office, by Friday, Dec. 27 over 113,500 Kentuckians successfully enrolled into a health care plan through Kynect.

Gov. Steve Beshear’s office recently posted a county-by-county breakdown of the numbers of people who have  signed up for health coverage through the exchange as of Saturday, Dec. 21.

According to that chart, Harrison County has a total of 303 people enrolled for coverage through the exchange. Compared with adjoining counties, Harrison’s numbers are low. Bourbon County has 442 people enrolled. Grant County has 532 people. Pendleton County accounts for 345. On the other end of the spectrum, Nicholas County has 198 enrolled and Robertson County has 66.

Across the board, the majority of new enrollees are those who qualify for participation in the Medicaid program. Banahan also noted that there are better than average numbers for people who qualified for premium assistance or a tax credit when buying a qualified health plan.

“The silver level plans are the most popular. Platinum level plans are not far behind,” Banahan said.

Unlike many other state and federal health exchange website’s, Kentucky is still considered the health exchange program to emulate. Banahan said that the website handled the holiday rush to enroll before Dec. 23 without a serious incident.

“At one point we had over 3,600 people on the website at the same time and Kynect handled the traffic without slowing down at all. In December, we have averaged about 3,000 approvals a day” Banahan said.

Though over 300 people have signed up for coverage in Harrison County, that total number accounts for only about 10-15 percent of Harrison County’s uninsured. There are still well over a thousand or so people who are eligible to enroll, but have not moved forward yet, Currans said.

“The website may be working okay, but there are still a lot of people in our service area. A big reason is their confusion about health insurance terms and how to answer the questions on the website,” Currans said. “There are complicated terms and people are, understandably, nervous about what to do.”

In response to this need in the community, HMH sent over 1,000 letters to patients in their service area offering assistance in signing up for coverage on the website.

“We have a database of people whom we know are eligible for coverage. We can help answer their questions so that they can make the best decision about the type of medical coverage they can get through the exchange,” Currans said.

Joy Baker is the contact at HMH. People can schedule an appointment with her at the hospital to get help signing on for health coverage.

“The local response to our offer has been tepid, but that’s no surprise. People aren’t feeling a sense of urgency to comply with the law yet. But that will change in the months and years to come,” Currans said.

The HMH service does nothing more than provide people with information so that they can make the best decision for themselves, she said. 

But as the program moves forward, Currans anticipates that there will be a rising demand for new primary care providers as Harrison County’s uninsured get coverage.

“There will be a rising demand for new physicians and physician extenders in primary care by 2015. That’s why our extended plans include supporting recruitment efforts for more primary care providers. They are going to be the main cog that will manage health care,” Currans said.

As to the success of the Kentucky HBE, Banahan said that reaching 100,000 in three months is an excellent start.

“We didn’t expect to sign on 600,000 plus people right away. Massachusetts, which started this whole Health Exchange program over five years ago, has only reached about 95 percent of their uninsured population,” Banahan said.

Those who would like to take advantage of HMH’s assistance with Kentucky’s Kynect program can schedule an appointment with Baker at 234-3596.

 She will take time to walk people through the entire process and answer questions that they will have along the way, Currans said.