By RONNIE ELLIS
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear told a Washington conference Tuesday that Kentucky’s embrace of the Affordable Care Act has been “life-changing” for thousands of Kentucky enrollees and “transformative” for Kentucky.
He also called Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell “disingenuous” for his attacks on the law while also saying Kentucky could maintain its health exchange even if the health care reform law is repealed which McConnell advocates.
Beshear was on a panel with former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; Drew Altman, CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation; Daniel Hilferty, CEO of Independence Blue Cross; and Anne Filipic, president of Enroll America.
Enroll America is a non-profit which advocates for the expansion of health coverage nationally, so the audience was receptive and warmly welcomed Beshear who has become the national face of the ACA because of its successful implementation in Kentucky.
“Nationally, I’ve become the face of Obamacare for calling out Sen. McConnell and others for trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act,” Beshear said. He went on to say 421,000 Kentuckians are now enrolled through Kentucky’s ACA exchange, called “Kynect,” and said that’s caused McConnell, Kentucky’s other Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and others to adjust their message on the law.
“Our senators and others seem to be looking at (Kynect) a little differently and talking about it a little differently,” Beshear said.
He was referring to a recent McConnell press conference where the Republican critic of Obamacare was asked if he would leave the 421,000 now enrolled under Kynect without insurance and dismantle the exchange.
After again calling for repeal of the law, McConnell said Kynect “is unconnected to my comments about the overall question.”
Beshear and others scoff at the notion Kynect could survive without the provisions of the ACA, which provide subsidies for some to buy private insurance, allow others to enroll in Medicaid under expanded income eligibility guidelines, and prohibits insurance companies to deny coverage based on health status or gender.
But McConnell — through his Senate spokesman Robert Steurer — again maintained on Tuesday that the two aren’t inextricably tied to each other.
“Kentucky did not need a mandate from Washington to start an insurance market exchange (Kynect), and it doesn’t need one to continue operating it,” Steurer said in an emailed response to a request for comment. He said public and private exchanges existed before ACA and could exist without the law.
Steurer said McConnell continues to support “full repeal of Obamacare,” which McConnell frequently describes as the “worst piece of legislation passed in the last 50 years.”
But Beshear said embracing the new law was “the morally right thing to do,” noting that 75 percent of the 421,000 — about one in 10 Kentuckians — now have health coverage “for the first time in their lives.”
He noted the unpopularity in Kentucky of President Barack Obama but said he told Kentuckians the law isn’t “about me, this is not about the president. It’s about you and your family.”
Sebelius, who was vilified for the disastrous rollout of the national ACA website, asked the audience, “Isn’t Steve Beshear swell?” She went on to say the expansion of health care coverage in Kentucky will be Beshear’s legacy and will result in a “far healthier Kentucky.”
She, too, took on the law’s critics for “relentless misinformation and relentless obstruction.” And, she noted during questioning, the rate of health care cost increases has slowed to its lowest rate in history since ACA began to be implemented four years ago.
Steurer said the law is having the opposite effect, making already expensive health care more expensive.
Altman said polling done by the Kaiser Foundation indicates “a perfectly partisan split,” calling criticism of the law “more political symbolism than reality.”
Beshear acknowledged the political passion around the issue, saying he made a conscious decision to call Kentucky’s exchange something other than Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act.
He then recounted the story of a visitor to the Kentucky State Fair who listened to a presentation about Kynect and then said, “That’s a whole lot better than that old Obamacare.”
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.