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Success for Kentucky's Copy of Obamacare

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear talks to The Root about how his Republican-heavy state is showing the South that the Affordable Care Act can work.

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And when I look at Kentucky's health status, we have some of the worst health statistics in the nation. And we've had those same statistics and same rankings for decades. And while we've made small inroads to make life better for our people, we have been in need of some transformational tool to be able to get out of this ditch. And the Affordable Care Act has given me that tool. And I don't really care if it's a Democrat idea or a Republican idea -- if it's a good idea then we ought to grab hold of it and do it.

So far we have signed up over 26,000 people for expanded Medicaid and the qualified health plans, and that doesn't include the 10,000 more people who are in the process of choosing a plan.

This is going to be a game changer. We are going to see a much healthier population here. A much healthier workforce and therefore a more productive society.

TR: How do you see universal health care improving your state's economy?

SB: One of my top priorities as governor has been to stimulate our economy and create jobs for our people. When I came into office in December of 2007, within a month I was hit square in the face with the worst recession of our lifetimes. And I've had to lead this state through that economic disaster, and we've been pretty successful. We have had one of the best growth rates of any states for two to three years now.

But what I have found on the road as I speak to companies and businesses about relocating to Kentucky or expanding their operations in Kentucky, while they are interested in tax incentives, and good roads and transportations and logistics, the top priority of these businesses is a quality, educated, skilled workforce.

And it is obvious that if you have an unhealthy workforce, you're not going to have a very productive workforce. They're going to be off sick a lot, or they're going to be home taking care of their child because they can't afford to take the child to the doctor to get him or her well. If we are successful in improving the long-term health of our people, our families and our children, we are going to have a workforce second to none. We are going to be so much more attractive for businesses to come here and create the jobs we need.

TR: What has been your messaging strategy? How do you convince poor whites in the rural South that Obamacare is not socialism? Or that President Obama isn't giving them health care to kill them?

SB: I know for people in the news media, when they think of Kentucky the first thing that comes to mind may be the faces of our congressional delegation. That is not what Kentucky is about. Kentucky is actually a really progressive place.

This perspective is also a part of our messaging strategy to Kentuckians. We speak to people where they are. We are about helping them better their lives. And we are building the necessary tools to get them there.