Politics & Government

Obamas invite Beshears to State of the Union speech

Gov. Steve Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear waved to arriving band members during the Inaugural Parade down Capitol Ave. in Frankfort, Ky., on Dec. 13, 2011. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
Gov. Steve Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear waved to arriving band members during the Inaugural Parade down Capitol Ave. in Frankfort, Ky., on Dec. 13, 2011. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff HERALD-LEADER

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and his wife, Jane, will sit with first lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday night as President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress and the nation in his State of the Union speech.

Beshear told the Herald-Leader on Monday that he and his wife were "honored" to receive the invitation in a call last week from Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

Obama repeatedly has hailed Beshear's work in implementing Kentucky's health-care exchange as part of the federal Affordable Care Act, and if tradition holds, he probably will do so again during the televised address. (The speech is set to start at 9 p.m. and will air on major broadcast and cable networks.)

"I appreciate his hard work in getting the Affordable Care Act passed to give me the opportunity to change the course of Kentucky's history when it comes to health care," Beshear said of Obama.

Beshear noted that more than 182,000 Kentuckians have signed up for health coverage using the exchange since it went live Oct. 1. About three-fourths of those have enrolled in the state's expanded Medicaid coverage, with the remainder enrolling in private insurance plans.

In the early days of the exchange, about 1,000 people a day were signing up for health coverage, a pace that Beshear said he and his staff thought would decline over time.

"Now they're signing up at 1,500 a day," the governor said. "It's just a demonstration of the enormous pent-up demand."

As the only Southern governor who opted to set up a state exchange instead of relying on a federally-run exchange, Beshear has been an unlikely star of Obama's health-care law, making the national media rounds to hail its success even as the federal program got off to a disastrous start.

Problems with the federal program's website led to a low point in Obama's tenure, but he often pointed to Beshear and Kentucky as examples of the law's successes as he traveled the country last year defending the program.

"Look at Kentucky," Obama told a Boston audience in October. "Gov. Steve Beshear, who's a Democrat, he is like a man possessed with helping more people get coverage. He thinks it's the right thing to do. Keep in mind I did not win in Kentucky. But there are a lot of uninsured people in Kentucky, and they're signing up."

Mitt Romney, Obama's Republican opponent in 2012, won the Bluegrass State with about 61 percent of the vote.

The Beshears are planning to fly to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday morning.

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