Grant Aims to Decrease State’s Uninsured

Contact: Mary Margaret Colliver

 

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“The HRSA State Planning Grant will provide resources to gather valuable data regarding the characteristics of the uninsured populations of Kentucky and a planning process focused on public and private strategies for bringing the uninsured into Kentucky’s health care system. This is a unique opportunity for policymakers, stakeholders, and concerned citizens to better understand the importance of health care coverage for all to the economic vitality of the Commonwealth.”

-- Michael E. Samuels,
endowed chair in rural health policy,
UK Center for Rural Health

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 22, 2004) -- The Kentucky State Office of Rural Health, based at the University of Kentucky Center for Rural Health in Hazard, has received more than $713,000 to implement a planning process focused on strategies for expanding health insurance to the state’s neediest residents.

The one-year State Planning Grant, announced this week by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, is a collaborative effort with UK, the Kentucky Long-Term Policy Research Center (KLTPRC) in Frankfort and the University of Louisville. It is aimed at exploring public and private means for reducing the number of Kentuckians without health coverage. Currently, that total is approximately 548,000 residents, or 13.6 percent of the population, according to a 2003 U.S. Census Bureau population survey. The issue is particularly problematic in rural Kentucky, with the highest uninsured rate found in Clay County, where 20.7 percent of residents have no health insurance.

An additional 1.25 million Kentuckians, or about 31 percent of the population, rely on government-funded insurance programs such as Medicaid, which is vulnerable to external economic conditions. Further Medicaid eligibility cuts could significantly increase the state’s uninsured population.

“The HRSA State Planning Grant will provide resources to gather valuable data regarding the characteristics of the uninsured populations of Kentucky and a planning process focused on public and private strategies for bringing the uninsured into Kentucky’s health care system,” said distinguished scholar Michael E. Samuels, endowed chair in rural health policy at the UK Center for Rural Health and principal investigator for the grant. “This is a unique opportunity for policymakers, stakeholders, and concerned citizens to better understand the importance of health care coverage for all to the economic vitality of the Commonwealth.”

Among the specific goals of the project are to design research that identifies disparities in geographic or racial/ethnic access to care and to identify options for reducing Medicaid expenditures without reducing eligibility or increasing investment in the program. A series of community forums will be convened around the state to gather information about the experiences of being under- and uninsured, ideas and innovations that are helping the uninsured, and alternatives to the status quo. Researchers also plan telephone surveys of more than 1,600 households and 500 small businesses to assist in determining the estimation of health insurance coverage at the state level.

“The Center for Rural Health is proud of this collaboration involving the State Office of Rural Health, the Center for Rural Health and the Long Term Policy and Research Center,” said Judy Jones, director of the Center for Rural Health. “This combination of resources will be effective in conducting research and making the results applicable to those who need the information most.”

KLTPRC, a state agency attached to the General Assembly, is a key partner on this landmark grant. Bowling Green resident Paul Cook, chairman of the agency’s board of directors, emphasized the importance of the grant’s immediate and long-term impact on the Commonwealth.

“The board and staff of the Kentucky Long-Term Policy Research Center could not be more pleased to be partners on this federal grant from HRSA, which will bring nearly $1 million into our state for vitally important research,” Cook said. “No topic of study could be timelier, given the rising number of uninsured or of greater long-term importance to the state’s future. As partners on this grant, we have a remarkable opportunity to give policymakers tools they can use and citizens reason to hope for progress.”

Biennial surveys conducted for KLTPRC by the UK Survey Research Center that measure public opinion on goals for the future of the state consistently have found that Kentuckians rank universal access to affordable, high-quality health care at or near the top in terms of importance. At the same time, citizens consistently have ranked the goal last in terms of progress on every survey since 1998.

KLTPRC’s senior policy analyst, Michal Smith Mello, will act as project director, overseeing the day-to-day operations of the multi-faceted project. Its executive director, Michael Childress, and policy analyst and economist, Amy Watts, will assist in the analysis of data. Additionally, KLTPRC will work with the project’s steering committee to organize meetings and make progress reports, as well as develop routine communications tools.

Mello, along with Julia Costich, assistant professor in the UK College of Public Health, and Larry Palmer, endowed chair for urban health policy at the University of Louisville, also will conduct research into the implications of various public and private policy options for expanding the state’s insured population.

“This partnership between the Long-Term Policy Research Center, the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky should help policymakers in both the private and public sectors better understand how best to address the unmet health care needs of Kentucky's uninsured,” said Palmer. “Our grant provides an excellent opportunity to use interdisciplinary research in service of the needs of Kentuckians."

Mello and Costich, along with Dr. F. Douglas Scutchfield, the Peter P. Bosomworth Endowed Professor in the UK College of Public Health, co-authored a report in 1999 on the status of health care in Kentucky.


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