IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Obamacare enrollments surge in Kentucky as first deadline nears

The state’s two Republican senators may still hate Obamacare, but ordinary Kentuckians are embracing the health care law in droves.
Uninsured individuals seek coverage through The Affordable Care Act, or \"Obamacare,\" in Appalachia
Jeff Fletcher, an uninsured resident, laughs after enrolling in the Affordable Care Act with the help of Kentucky health care exchange navigator Courtney Lively at the Breathitt County Family Health Center on Nov. 21, 2013 in Jackson, Ky.

The state’s two Republican senators may still hate Obamacare, but ordinary Kentuckians are embracing the health care law in droves.

As of Friday morning, 96,968 Kentuckians— nearly a fifth of the state’s half-a-million uninsured people--are now covered thanks to Obamacare, a state official told msnbc.

As the first deadline for coverage approaches—to be covered by Jan. 1, you must enroll by Dec. 23—the rate of enrollment is up by 62% from before Thanksgiving, according to Jill Midkiff, director of communications for Kentucky's Cabinet for Health and Family Services. That’s a jump from the 40% surge from before Thankskgiving the state announced last week.

Perhaps the most promising number: 40% of all enrollees are under 35. That’s crucial, because getting healthy, younger Americans into the health care law's exchanges is key to the law's long-term success.

While states were not obligated to build their own exchange -- and many didn't, often due to political leaders who opposed the healthcare law -- Kentucky embraced the law, built its own exchange, known as Kynect, and has been perhaps the model state system.

Nearly all the Obamacare exchanges on the state and federal level saw high levels of interest when they were unveiled on Oct. 1. Kentucky’s site crashed for six hours that first day, but the state’s tech team added more servers, doubling capacity, allowing them to resurrect the site quickly.

The team also made a number of changes to accommodate the surging demand in early December, increasing their online capacity by 80% by adding more servers and updating the system. They also extended the call center’s availability, opening it up seven days a week, according to Midkiff.

Kynect was built and developed independently of the federal government’s exchange and doesn’t mention Obamacare on the site.

By contrast, the federal exchange’s myriad problems became a month-long national story. On Thursday, the Obama administration moved to exempt Americans from the insurance mandate if their policies were cancelled, giving them more time to sign up for new insurance on the exchanges.

MSNBC featured Kentucky’s successful Obamacare exchange back in October, in response to an op-ed by the state’s Republican senators, Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell. They wrote that “Obamacare might sell in New York, but Kentuckians aren’t buying it.”.

“Our state’s U.S. senators are simply ignoring the facts when they continue to insist that ‘no one’ in Kentucky wants the Affordable Care Act,” Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear told MSNBC at the time.

Nearly three quarters of Kentucky’s new enrollees, 72,285, have joined Medicaid, which was expanded as part of Obamacare. Another 24,683 have enrolled in a qualified health plan.

State officials have credited the overwhelming demand to Kentucky’s poor level of health. The state ranks among the worst—and sometimes the absolute worst—in nearly all major health rankings, including premature death, preventable hospitalizations, heart disease, diabetes, smoking, and cancer deaths.  

Kentucky’s not alone in the December surge. California enrollments have shot up over the last three days as well, with more than 53,500 enrollments in that time.