Herald-Leader Editorial

So, there is demand for health care; Ky. off to good start, let law work

Ky. off to good start; let law work

October 6, 2013 

As Republicans shut down the U.S. government last week because they couldn't block the Affordable Care Act, Americans in droves were voting with their feet.

Or, more precisely, with their fingertips on computer keyboards as visitors swamped the online health insurance marketplaces that opened Oct. 1.

Millions of people couldn't wait to shop for affordable health insurance. Who'd have thought it?

Not the Republican detractors, including our own Sen. Mitch McConnell, who saw the overwhelmed websites as a sign of failure — like a "trip to the DMV," McConnell sniffed — rather than a sign of pent-up demand.

More than 24,000 people browsed Kentucky's health insurance exchange — kynect.ky.gov — between its midnight opening and 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, and despite some technical glitches, 1,000 of them completed applications.

By 4 p.m. Friday, less than four full days into the rollout:

■ 148,743 unique visitors to kynect.ky.gov had been recorded.

■ 134,222 had conducted pre-screenings to find out whether they qualify for subsidies, discounts or Medicaid.

■ 17,872 applications had been received and 11,879 completed.

■ 5,372 individuals and/or families had enrolled in new health care coverage.

■ 178 small businesses had started applications for health insurance for their employees.

■ 25,040 calls had been fielded by the kynect contact center (1-855-459-6328).

Perhaps Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, should reconsider his conviction that Kentuckians "want protection from Obamacare." A lot of them just want any care.

But Barr and his Republican colleagues kept on spinning what Gov. Steve Beshear correctly called "their web of misinformation," employing distortions, illogic and plain lies to undermine the health care law.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whom House Republicans followed down the rabbit hole only to discover he had no exit strategy, railed against the "enormous harms that Obamacare is inflicting on millions of Americans." Since when is having health insurance harmful?

A group backed by the Koch brothers is waging a campaign to dissuade young adults from buying health insurance. Remember when conservatives liked personal responsibility? And Republican state legislatures and governors in some states are actively sabotaging reforms.

McConnell has said the health care law is a "big reason we are turning into a nation of part-time workers." Because the law provides no penalty for employers who fail to insure part-time workers, McConnell's concern is legitimate. But his alarm is overblown. Economists who have studied part-time employment say it's no greater now than in earlier post-recession periods.

We don't know the law's economic effects because its most important parts are just coming on line. "The script is still being written," Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics told The New York Times. "I don't see any evidence Obamacare is impacting the job market."

The reforms bear scrutiny and will need adjustments, but they deserve a chance to work, just as 600,000-plus uninsured Kentuckians deserve access to care.

Thanks to those at the Department of Insurance and Cabinet for Health and Family Services whose planning and hard work paid off last week as Kentucky shone. Our small state signed up more people than some that are much larger while kynect's user-friendly launch drew praise.

Of course, the really hard part — improving Kentuckians' health — is still to come.

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