Metro United Way building at 334 E. Broadway.

The state’s Medicaid overhaul could have an impact on Louisville charities, but it’s not yet known whether it will be a boon or a burden for many of the organizations that use volunteers.

Depending on how many Medicaid recipients choose volunteering to fulfill a new “community engagement” requirement, the state’s Kentucky HEALTH program could be an issue for charities in terms of being able to handle things like phone calls and processing of potential volunteers, Metro United Way brand manager John Blair said.

But, right now, “we’re not even sure they (nonprofits) know what the waiver fully entails,” he said.

Kentucky HEALTH is a Medicaid demonstration project approved by the Trump administration earlier this year. The waiver includes a component called PATH (Partnering to Enhance Training and Health) that will require certain Medicaid recipients to meet a community engagement requirement by working 80 hours a month, or getting involved in other activities, such as volunteering or taking classes.

To help nonprofits in the Louisville area get up to speed on the state’s program, the United Way will have two meetings later this month at its offices.

The June 26 and 29 gatherings are aimed at helping nonprofits to “understand the program, how they may be affected, and see what help/guidance we can provide to ensure the program is administered effectively,” Blair said in an email. “This is about Metro United Way being proactive to serve as a voice and a guide for the nonprofits.”

Photo by Darla Carter

The community engagement requirement — which is for able-bodied adults, from ages 19 to 64, who don’t have an exemption — goes into effect July 1 in northern Kentucky’s Campbell County and will be phased in gradually across the state, reaching Louisville in October.

The state did not respond to requests for comment on this topic. But state officials have indicated in public meetings that they don’t intend for the volunteer component to be a problem for nonprofits.

Literature on the Kentucky HEALTH website notes: “Organizations do not need to create new or special programs, but understand that there may be an increase in the number of people looking for volunteer opportunities to satisfy their requirement. We urge Community Based Organizations to support the efforts of this population.”

Kentucky HEALTH (Helping to Engage and Achieve Long Term Health) is being challenged in court by 15 Kentuckians enrolled in Medicaid who argue that approval of the Section 1115 waiver violates federal law and will endanger the health care of tens of thousands of low-income families.

Americana World Community Center | Photo by James Natsis

Edgardo Mansilla, executive director of the Americana World Community Center, said he is sure they will receive some volunteers from the program. He noted that in the past the center has taken on people who’ve needed to volunteer to meet requirements of another program.

Edgardo Mansilla | Photo by James Natsis

“The person gets a benefit and we get a benefit” in terms of their volunteer effort, he said.

Volunteer tasks at the south-end community center are tailored to each person and may include things like gardening, building maintenance or helping to feed children, Mansilla said.

“We are working case-by-case with the person and see what we can do,” he said.

Other charities

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kentuckiana anticipates that it would have some challenges accommodating people trying to meet PATH requirement.

For example, a Big Brother or Big Sister has to be able to make a one-year time commitment, have reliable transportation, have car insurance and meet other requirements, said Jeri Swinton, the organization’s chief executive.

There’s also screening.

The community engagement requirement is expected to arrive in Jefferson County in October. | Photo by Darla Carter

“I estimate that before we ever match a volunteer, we’re spending about $600-$700 just in that time and training and screening and doing the background checks, doing the reference checks,” Swinton said. And “doing the same thing on the side with the child.”

The adults typically don’t see the child they’re paired with more than a few hours a week, which in theory would not meet the community engagement requirement, which is roughly 20 hours a week.

However, the state has noted — most recently in a forum in Covington — that a person could split up the hours, such as doing 10 hours one week and 30 the next, and that a combination of activities could be used to meet the requirement, such as doing volunteering and job training.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Kentuckiana, which screens volunteers, is looking forward to getting help from people trying to meet the PATH requirement.

Courtesy of the American Red Cross

“We would certainly welcome volunteers,” said Corey Miller, vice president of Development & Communications. ” … We’re always in need of mentors and tutors and if that (state program) opens a door in a way, it would certainly be more of a blessing for us.”

The American Red Cross made similar comments.

“The Red Cross is always in need of volunteers,” Amber Youngblood, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky region stated in an email. “Volunteers make up 95 percent of our workforce. … We have people ready to assist and provide them free training to begin their volunteerism with us.”

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Darla Carter
Darla Carter is a hometown girl who recently joined the staff of Insider Louisville to mostly cover health. She previously served as a longtime health and fitness writer for The Courier-Journal, where she also worked for the Metro, Neighborhoods and Features departments. Prior to that, the award-winning journalist wrote for newspapers elsewhere in Kentucky and Tennessee, covering a range of topics, from education to courts. She's a graduate of Western Kentucky University, where she studied journalism and philosophy, and is the proud mom of two young children.