FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear touted Kentucky's efforts to sign up people for health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act and told its political critics, including U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, that the program "is working."
At a Capitol news conference Tuesday, the Democratic governor announced that 413,410 Kentuckians enrolled for health-care coverage through the online insurance marketplace called "Kynect" in its first open-enrollment period, from Oct. 1 through March 31.
The next enrollment period will begin Nov. 15 for coverage effective Jan. 1, 2015. Anyone can apply for Medicaid at any time. Only those who experience a qualifying event, such as the loss of employer-sponsored health-insurance coverage, will be able to buy private health plans outside of open enrollment.
In an editorial column this week, McConnell, a Louisville Republican, wrote that the program dubbed Obamacare is wrecking the economy.
Asked about McConnell's remarks, Beshear said, "These critics continue apparently to sit in their own echo chambers and talk to each other, because when you get out and talk to these 413,000 people, they are very thankful that we have moved forward both in expanding the Medicaid program and setting up our own health-benefits exchange."
In an emailed statement after Beshear's news conference, McConnell said, "The truth about Obamacare is that tens of thousands of Kentuckians from Paducah to Pikeville received cancellation letters for the health-care plans they had — despite the president's promise that they could keep them.
"Many are being forced to pay higher premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs often for a plan that offers less access to hospitals and their favorite doctor."
State Health and Family Services Secretary Audrey Tayse Haynes said her cabinet is working on ways to provide medical accessibility to all the newly insured in Kentucky.
Beshear predicted that political candidates will see that the public has a different viewpoint on the federal health-care act this November than it did last November, when "much misinformation" was aired about it.
He said about 75 percent of the people signing up for health insurance in Kentucky had no previous insurance and that 330,615 people qualified for Medicaid coverage.
Beshear described it as "deeply satisfying" that 10 percent of the state's population "finally has affordable, quality health insurance that gives them assurance that if they get sick or hurt, they'll get the care and they're not in danger of bankruptcy."
Beshear introduced two people who signed up for health insurance through Kynect.
Beth Moore, a self-employed behavioral analyst in Louisville, said she enrolled in Kynect and used her insurance to pay for an unexpected appendectomy in March in Texas.
Without the insurance, she said, she would have had to find $30,000 to pay her medical bills. "All I've paid out is $150," she said.
Newport businessman Scott Ledyard said he signed up with Kynect in January and is saving $230 a month in health insurance.
More than one out of every 10 Kentuckians has health insurance through Kynect, Haynes said.
She said that figure is expected to rise because some paper applications are being processed.
Fifty-two percent of all Kynect enrollees are younger than 35. Among those in private health-care plans, 33 percent are younger than 35.
About 80 percent of enrollees qualified for coverage under the Medicaid expansion, with the remaining 20 percent purchasing a private insurance plan. Of those who bought private insurance plans, 72 percent qualified for some level of assistance with premiums.
Seventy-five percent of Kentuckians who bought a private insurance plan through Kynect selected the Kentucky Health Cooperative as their insurer, and the rest were about equally divided between Anthem and Humana.
Currently, 68 percent of those who enrolled in a private insurance plan have paid their first month's premiums.
Beshear was asked what he thinks of references to Kynect as "Beshearcare."
"I'm excited about what we've done," he said.
Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.