Ky.’s successful rollout of health-insurance exchange prompts New York Times to profile Beshear as ‘a man on a mission’

A weekend article in The New York Times describes Gov. Steve Beshear as a man determined to prove that the health-reform law works, and says Kentucky stands out in many ways while the federal government is struggling to fix its health-insurance website. While comparisons are difficult, Trip Gabriel reports that Kentucky’s health insurance marketplace is “one of the most successful” in the country.

Kentucky is the only Southern state to operate its own insurance exchange as well as to expand Medicaid coverage. “It is an anomaly on the polarized political map, and a test — in a red state that has elected to the Senate Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, and Rand Paul, a tea-party favorite — of whether bitterness over the law will dissolve if people decide it effectively provides affordable health care,” Gabriel writes.

Gov. Steven L. Beshear, right, with employees at Kynect 
headquarters. He has said Kentuckians do not have to 
like President Obama or him to like the new health care law.

President Obama said last week that Kentucky may have had the most successful exchange launch. As of last week, some 34,000 Kentuckians had begun applications on Kynect, and more than 11,000 had signed up for plans.

At the federal level, exchanges have been plagued by technical “glitches” and to date, the Obama administration has failed to release official enrollment numbers. The Republican National Committee said Monday it was sending a Freedom of Information Act request to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, seeking Obamacare enrollment numbers, reports Caroline May of The Daily Caller.

About half a million people have started applications on the federal exchanges, administration officials said Saturday. The figure is only a snapshot of applications, and since the administration isn’t planning to release until next month the number of people who have actually enrolled in a health plan, much is left unsaid, writes Joanne Kenen of Politico. For now, it can only be said that Kentucky may have the most successful roll-out, and the governor is determined to make success a certainty.

Beshear told the Times his decision to embrace the law was not political.

“To me this was a moral decision,” he said. “We’ve got 640,000 Kentuckians who don’t have access to any kind of affordable health care. The last ranking I saw, we’re 44th out of 50 in health status. You take any chronic disease or condition — heart disease, cancer, smoking, obesity, you name it — and we’re either the worst or close to the worst.”

In embracing the law, Beshear decided not to seek approval from the General Assembly for the exchange or the expansion of Medicaid, moves that brought a lawsuit and a circuit-court ruling supporting him. The state Supreme Court has been asked to hear the case, brought by tea-party activist David Adams of Nicholasville. Beshear said in a recent op-ed piece in the Times, “To those more worried about political power than Kentucky’s families, I say, ‘Get over it.'”

“Steve Beshear is a man on a mission,” Al Cross, the director of the University of Kentucky‘s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of Kentucky Health News, told Gabriel. “He no longer has to worry about politics.” Beshear, who is in his second term, cannot seek re-election in 2015.

While many Kentuckians are concerned about Obamacare’s effect on their health insurance or the state budget, Beshear blamed the law’s unpopularity on Republicans who were “demonizing” it. “You don’t have to like the president; you don’t have to like me,” he told Gabriel. “Because this isn’t about him, and it’s not about me. It’s about you, your family and your children. So do yourself a favor. Find what you can get for yourself. You’re going to like what you find.”

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