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Health insurance companies in Kentucky want to increase rates by an average of 17 percent next year.

The Kentucky Department of Insurance posted rate requests from the state's major insurance carriers on Wednesday. They include plans for individuals and small groups.

These are not premium increases. The base rate is one of several factors used to determine a person's premium, including age, sex and where a person lives. Individual premiums will vary.

State officials blame some of the increases on the failure of the Kentucky Health Cooperative. Many of the company's high-risk customers were picked up by other companies, leading to higher rates.

The rate requests cover plans sold on and off kynect, the state's health insurance exchange. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin plans to dismantle kynect by the end of this year.

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University of Kentucky entomologists have created a website to provide information on the Zika virus, with mosquitoes starting to show up in the state.

Extension entomologist Lee Townsend says mosquito populations will peak in mid- to late summer. He said in a news release the website will include information on Zika cases as they appear and on mosquitoes that are potential virus carriers in the state.

Zika can be transmitted sexually, but it is primarily spread through mosquito bites.

The website can be found here.

All confirmed cases of Zika in the U.S. are from travelers bitten by mosquitoes while in another country, including six in Kentucky.

The virus causes mild, flu-like symptoms but can cause severe birth defects in babies whose mothers contract the virus during pregnancy.

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More Kentuckians are gaining health insurance coverage, a trend that has continued since the Affordable Care Act was implemented in 2014, according to a report released Wednesday by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

The fourth quarter 2015 snapshot of the impact of the ACA in Kentucky indicates that the rate of uninsurance was 7.5 percent as of December 2015, down from 9 percent in June 2015.

Nationally, 11.7 percent lacked health insurance as of December; the rate was 10.2 percent for the eight states surrounding Kentucky.

“Lack of insurance is a significant barrier to getting necessary health care and preventive services timely,” said Susan Zepeda, President/CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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Kentucky is launching a Zika awareness and prevention program.

Six people, including at least one pregnant woman, have been diagnosed with the Zika virus in Kentucky.  All of them contracted it while traveling abroad.

State officials in the areas of health, agriculture, and entomology all participated in a Frankfort news conference Monday.

Infectious disease specialist Ardis Hoven is consulting with the State Department of Public Health.

“We’ll be looking and monitoring for local transmission, that’s the key issue, local transmission,” Hoven said. “To date, Kentucky has had none. In the United States, there has been no local transmission. It’s all been from travelers coming back from infected areas.”

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Ireland Army Community Hospital at Fort Knox says it will begin limiting new surgery cases starting next month.

The hospital says the change is due to operating room staffing changes and the impact on maintaining safe, quality care. Cesarean sections and all currently scheduled surgeries will continue, but no new surgeries will be scheduled after June 1.

The hospital is scheduled to become an outpatient clinic and will end inpatient and emergency services by Dec. 15. The hospital said that could happen sooner if staffing becomes an issue.

The hospital said in a news release that service members and TRICARE beneficiaries will continue to have inpatient and surgical care needs met by central Kentucky community health partners.

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The Cabinet for Health and Family Services is bringing 91 field workers from around the state, to Frankfort, to help deal with the backlog of applications in Benefind, the new umbrella portal for Kentucky’s welfare programs.

Since the February rollout of Benefind, people trying to get benefits have had to deal with long wait times at local Department for Community Based Services offices and over the phone. The system also erroneously sent out notices to some people that their benefits had been canceled.

Brandon Carlson, the project manager for the initiative, said the group had already processed over 9,000 cases this week.

“By focusing our efforts here on those cases, we were able to free up our workers at all the local DCBS offices to address the lobby traffic and the high volume of calls and the new applications,” he said.

The cabinet estimates it now has a backlog of 16,000 cases, down from 30,000 at the beginning of the week.

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A recent report by Kaiser Family Foundation says Kentucky has one of the most successful implementations of the Affordable Care Act in the U.S.

The report cites the “single, integrated eligibility system [Kentucky] built for Kynect and Medicaid” as one of the most pivotal components to its success.

The foundation also concludes that the state’s leadership and collaboration, outreach and marketing efforts, and diverse network of enrollment assistance were also contributing factors to its success.

In a statement from Saving KY Healthcare, former Gov. Steve Beshear — a principal with the nonprofit — said Kynect and Medicaid expansion had a big impact.

“The successful rollout was largely due to thorough coordination by officials throughout the state, and a comprehensive effort to ensure that all aspects of Kynect and the expansion were ready to launch on day one,” he said.

Joseph Lord, WFPL

E-cigarettes and smoking hookah have gained popularity among middle and high school students in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes tripled from 2013 to 2014.

Among high school students, 13.4 percent were found to be using e-cigarettes in 2014 compared with 4.5 percent in 2013. The number of middle school students using e-cigarettes also tripled from 1.1 percent in 2013 to 3.9 percent in 2014.

Vince Willmore, vice president for communication at the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, said marketing of e-cigarettes has played a big role in young people using the product.

“They’re available in flavors that appeal to kids like cotton candy and gummy bear, so it’s not surprising that kids are using more of these products because they’re being marketed in the very same way that regular cigarettes have been marketed to kids,” he said.

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Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said earlier this week that the Zika virus is “scarier than we initially thought” and that states need to be ready for potentially widespread infections.

And the agency confirmed for the first time on Wednesday that the virus causes birth defects.

The organization said the mosquito carrying the virus may be present in about 30 states. It was previously thought to be found in a dozen U.S. states.

Last month, Kentucky officials — led by Gov. Matt Bevin — held a news conference meant to reassure the public that Zika was not a threat in the commonwealth, and that they had been preparing for potential cases. There have been three confirmed cases in Kentucky. Two were people in Louisville, and each person had recently traveled to an area affected by the virus.

Here’s what state officials said then:

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Kentucky adults still have a hard time affording health care, according to a Kentucky Health Issues Poll.

In 2015, one in five Kentucky adults either didn’t get care or delayed care due to cost, according to the report. That’s down from 2014 and 2009, when 22 percent and 32 percent, respectively, went without needed care due to cost.

Susan Zepeda, president of Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said having insurance coverage is a great start, but it doesn’t always get the whole job done.

“Although more and more Kentuckians are able to get the care they need in a timely manner, they’re is still work to be done,” she said. “There are still people who are delaying care or finding that they’re unable to handle the medical bills after they receive care.”

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As Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration and a private consulting firm work to fix Benefind, the troubled one-stop portal for health and social services in Kentucky, the blame game over who’s responsible for its problematic rollout continues.

At a hearing of the state Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee on Monday, a top Bevin administration official blamed the federal government and previous Gov. Steve Beshear for the problems plaguing the system. The online portal, which launched Feb. 29, has been marred with long wait times, lost services and erroneous notices of canceled benefits.

Vickie Yates Brown Glisson, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, told lawmakers that federal officials tested Benefind before it was released and gave the green light to launch.

“If there’s a problem, someone should take it up with the federal government. They said ‘you need to move forward,’” she testified to the committee.

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Even though it’s late in the season, the number of flu cases is on the rise in Kentucky.  State health experts are still encouraging vaccination.

For the ninth week in a row, the flu activity level is widespread, meaning that at least half of the state’s regions are reporting an increase in cases of the flu.  The traditional flu season lasts from October through May.  Increased flu activity began later this season than usual in Kentucky.  Due to the late peak in the season, both in Kentucky and nationally, increased flu activity is anticipated to continue well into May.

Teresa Casey, a registered nurse at the Barren River District Health Department in Bowling Green, says people should think of others when they consider getting the vaccine.

"You may not decide to get the flu vaccine because you never get sick, but think about the people you are around, and if you did get the flu, who you would pass that on to," stated Casey.

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A new report shows nearly three-quarters of American adults report having at least one unhealthy behavior, such as smoking. But when it comes to multiple unhealthy behaviors associated with chronic disease, nearly 17 percent of Kentucky adults have three or more risk factors.

The report, America’s Health Rankings Spotlight: Impact of Unhealthy Behaviors, examines the prevalence of multiple unhealthy behaviors and inequities within groups. It was compiled by United Health Foundation.

The behaviors included smoking, physical inactivity, excessive drinking, obesity and insufficient sleep.

Ana Fuentevilla, chief medical officer for United Health Care Community and State Program, said those five unhealthy behaviors, especially together, worsen the general population’s health.

“Just by working on one and eliminating that unhealthy behavior, you can really improve the health of that individual,” she said.

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Thousands of Kentuckians have erroneously received letters notifying them that they would no longer receive state benefits like Medicaid or food stamps.

Meanwhile, access to the new state system that handles those programs has been restricted and service spotty in many instances, leading to long wait times, frustration and a loss of benefits for countless Kentuckians.

At a news conference Thursday, Gov. Matt Bevin and members of his administration acknowledged myriad problems with Benefind, which operates as the umbrella portal for Kentuckians to apply for nearly all entitlement services.

The administration also acknowledged it knew of problems with the system before its Feb. 29 launch. Many of those problems are detailed in a “defect guide” sent to state employees days before the system’s rollout and obtained by WFPL News.

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The Kentucky Department for Public Health has confirmed the state’s third case of Zika virus.

The latest case of Zika has been diagnosed in a pregnant woman from Louisville who traveled to region of Central American affected by Zika.

The health department reports that the woman has recovered from the illness.

Scientific evidence is suggesting a link between the Zika virus and babies born with birth defects.

Kentucky health officials are advising anyone  traveling to areas affected by the virus to consult with their doctor. It’s important to avoid bites from mosquitos because they can carry the Zika virus.

The virus has not been found to be circulating in the mosquito population in Kentucky.

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