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.

A restaurant in Booneville, Ky., 2012 (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
A restaurant in Booneville, Ky., 2012 (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

(The Root) — From its initial inception to the official launch, members of the GOP and conservative talking heads have fought the Affordable Care Act. But millions of impoverished Americans and the working poor do not have and cannot afford health insurance coverage. This is especially the case in the 26 states that opted out of the Medicaid expansion. According to the New York Times, those states that have rejected the expansion are home to about half of the country’s population, and about 60 percent of the country’s uninsured working poor are in those states.

But despite the political rancor in Washington, D.C., there are policy makers, even in red states, who are successfully implementing Obamacare and reaching the invisible poor. One of those states is Kentucky, from which two of the loudest critics of Obamacare — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Tea Party spokesman Sen. Rand Paul — hail.

Led by a Democratic governor, Kentucky — a reliably red, Southern state — has chosen to set up the state-based exchange and accept Medicaid expansion, and in so doing, is emerging as the poster child of the New South.

Kentucky is the fifth poorest state in the country — with a 19.4 percent poverty rate and 640,000 Kentuckians without health insurance. One in four children in the bluegrass state live in poverty, and this has disastrous effects on the long-term health of communities and hinders social mobility.

Kentucky’s Gov. Steve Beshear told The Root he is committed to providing citizens universal coverage, seeing it as both a moral cause and an economic one.

President Obama has praised Beshear, saying he is “like a man possessed” because of his almost religious commitment to the implementation of the ACA. And despite initial glitches with the federal online health care exchange, Kentucky’s version of Obamacare, known as Kynect, is running smoothly.

Gov. Beshear spoke exclusively to The Root about how his state is successfully enrolling Kentucky residents, both urban and rural, into the Medicaid expansion and private exchange. He says that despite stereotypes about his state’s demographics, Kentucky is experiencing a progressive 21st-century renaissance.

The Root: Given the high concentration of poverty in Kentucky and given the stark reality that many of them are Republican voters, how have you gone about implementing Obamacare and convincing people to participate?

Steve Beshear: First of all, as governor, I don’t have the luxury of spending a lot of time debating ideology. I’m responsible for over 4.3 million people, and I deal with them every day in terms of what affects their lives on a daily basis and how I can improve the quality of those lives while I’m in this office.

In this whole health care debate what is lost is who we’re really talking about. I have 640,000 Kentuckians that don’t have any health care coverage. And those aren’t a group of aliens from some strange planet; these are our friends and neighbors. These are people we go to church with, we shop in the grocery with, we sit in the bleachers on Friday nights and watch our kids play football, soccer and baseball. Some of these folks are members of our family. These are real, everyday people. And they are one bad diagnosis away from bankruptcy.