Politics & Government

Senate approves bills to stop Beshear from enacting federal health care act

FRANKFORT — The Republican-led Senate voted along party lines Friday to approve two bills that would require Gov. Steve Beshear to get the legislature's approval before implementing key parts of a landmark federal health insurance overhaul.

Both bills now go to the Democrat-led House, where they are expected to die.

Senate Bill 40 would require legislative approval before Kentucky could start a state-run health benefit exchange, an online marketplace for people to buy insurance. The exchange is a key part of President Barack Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Senate Bill 39 would require legislative approval to expand Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for the poor and disabled. The federal overhaul gives Kentucky the option of expanding Medicaid to an additional 400,0000 Kentuckians starting in 2014. The federal government will pay all of the additional costs in the first three years and 90 percent of the cost in the fourth year.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Senate passage of the bills was not to express any sentiment against the Affordable Care Act.

"This is a huge policy decision. We don't know all the details about them," he said. "The legislature should have a say about them."

Both bills are sponsored by Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville.

The vote on the bills split along party lines. Republicans said they were needed to provide legislative oversight, while Democrats said the bills would hurt needy people.

"You are voting against children and people who should have this service," said Sen. Walter Blevins, D-Morehead.

Beshear, a Democrat, created the health benefit exchange last summer by executive order. It is scheduled to go live on Jan. 1, 2014.

Republicans have repeatedly tried to block the exchange, raising questions about the cost of implementing the program. The Beshear administration has used federal grants to pay for start-up costs. Administration officials have said an existing tax on insurance companies will be used to pay for operating costs.

Also Friday, the Senate approved SB 142, which would require local-option elections for alcohol sales to be held on primary or general election days unless petitioners pay for the elections. The vote was 34-1.