As Obamacare spreads in Kentucky, the state remains conflicted about it and other forms of government help

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Even as Obamacare coverage spreads in Kentucky, more widely than in almost any other state, the commonwealth remains conflicted about it and other forms of government aid — creating a political battle that is likely to continue at least until the November 2014 elections, and perhaps into the governor’s race in 2015.

The federal health-reform law and its presidential namesake have been the centerpiece of the U.S. Senate race, with Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell railing against it, primary challenger Matt Bevin saying McConnell hasn’t done enough to dismantle it, and likely Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes keeping mostly mum as she waits for the political landscape to settle.

McConnell’s Kentucky strategy is part of a national game plan, in which “Republicans are launching a class war with racial undertones—and hurting the poor whites they’ll need to win in 2014,” the respected, non-partisan National Journal said in a cover story in its weekly magazine over the weekend, reported from Louisville by political writer Beth Reinhard. It is titled “Return of the Welfare Queen,” a trope popularized by Ronald Reagan.

Reinhard first looks beyond Kentucky, noting that “25 Republican-led states have — astoundingly” rejected expansion of Medicaid under the law. “To justify this unprecedented rejection of federal relief, these governors and state lawmakers say they just do not believe Washington will keep its promise to pick up the tab. Republicans in Congress are egging them on, denouncing Obamacare’s disastrous launch as proof of the arrogance and folly of big government.”

“The chances of the federal government picking up the tab for the newly eligible Medicaid people long term is zero, which means that the next governor, whoever that may be, is going to be stuck with a huge, huge problem,” McConnell said at a Nov. 12 press conference which he limited to the subject of Obamacare. “The Medicaid expansion that we have already experienced, the Medicaid increases that we’ve already experienced, is the principal reason your kids’ college tuition is going up. . . . So we’re paying for it already.”

National Journal’s coverage has a video, the middle frame of which
shows Gov. Steve Beshear and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Thus did McConnell conflate recent increases in Medicaid spending with Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear’s expansion of the program to households earning up to 138 percent of the poverty line, from the current 69 percent. That will cost the state nothing for three years, because the federal government will pay the entire cost of care for the newly eligible. In 2017, the state will begin to hep out, hitting the law’s 10 percent cap in 2020.

Reinhard notes that Republican “tirades” also target food-stamp recipients, and “Pitting makers against takers is simply smart, hardball
politics for some Republicans whose “primaries that will be largely decided by a mostly white conservative
base that hates the welfare state. . . . Class warfare can work in a primary. But, ultimately,
Republicans’ scorn for antipoverty programs hinders the party’s efforts
to expand beyond its conservative base.”

Reinhard writes, “This opposition carries an unmistakable undertone of class warfare, a theme easy to exploit in states such as Kentucky, packed with low-income white voters who have a strong distaste for the federal government. To hear the rhetoric coming from Capitol Hill and the campaign trail, Medicaid and food-stamp recipients are a bunch of shiftless freeloaders living high on king crab legs and free health care, all on the backs of hardworking Americans.”

But sometimes people who hold those opinions are relying on the government, too. Reinhard writes about Terry Rupe of Louisville, whose “household’s $13,000 yearly income comes exclusively from Washington,” and whom she met at a clinic where he was signing up for Medicaid: “The 63-year-old widower can’t remember the last time he voted for a Democrat, and he’s got nothing nice to say about President Obama. He’s also never had health insurance, although he
started working at age 9. Since his wife’s death four years ago, he’s been taking care of their 40-year-old, severely disabled daughter full time. She gets Medicaid and Medicare assistance.”

Nevertheless, Rupe told Reinhard, “I
don’t have any use for the federal government. It’s a bunch of liars, crooks, and thieves, and they’ve never done
anything for me. I’m not ungrateful, but I don’t have much faith in this health care law. Do I think it’s going to work? No. Do I think it’s going to bankrupt the country? Yes.” Reinhard cites a poll which found that “A majority of whites believe the health-care law will make things worse for them and their families.”

Next Reinhard introduces us to Adele Anderson, a white, middle-aged woman who gets $10 an hour for child care and $86 a month in food stamps, and was also signing up for Medicaid. She told Reinhard, “Democrats are too liberal. They just want to give handouts.”

Reinhard observes, “The disdain she and Rupe show toward living on the government dole at the very moment they are doing just that is typical in a state that distrusts Washington as much as it needs federal help. . . . Still, Obamacare is so politically toxic that McConnell
continues to flog the law that appears to be working in his own state.
What’s more, he’s disqualifying its fledgling success by inciting class

At his Nov. 12 press conference, McConnell noted that more than 80 percent of Obamacare signups in Kentucky had been for Medicaid, and said, “You know, if I went out here on the street and said, ‘Hey, you guys want free health care?’ I expect I’d get a lot of sign-ups. The most successful part of it has been if you’re talking about getting people signed up is people who are signing up for something that’s free.”

In response, the Grimes campaign issued a written statement: “It’s unfortunate that Sen. McConnell chooses to look down on Kentuckians who need health care, instead of working to fix the problems. He ought to help those Kentuckians, not attack them.”

Reinhard notes that Grimes has yet to say whether she supports the Medicaid expansion, but concludes: “Because Kentucky did take the cash, 308,000 poor people
are now eligible for health insurance in the Bluegrass State. Over the
11 months leading up to the election, McConnell and other Republicans
opposing Medicaid expansion will be hard-pressed to explain why they
want to take health insurance away from needy constituents who belong to
their own party.” (Read more)

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