Hypocrisy on health reform: Insured lawmakers ignore citizen need

Two thirds of Kentucky's state legislators get their medical care through the health insurance plan for state employees.

That's 91 of the current 136 members of the General Assembly. (Two seats are vacant.)

The legislature is made up of 72 Democrats, 63 Republicans and one Independent, which means lawmakers of both parties are insuring themselves and their dependents through the taxpayer-supported state health plan.

We bring this up only to say that lawmakers should think twice before denying access to affordable health care to Kentuckians who, unlike themselves, lack the luxury of enrolling in the state plan.

Republican lawmakers in particular should consider whether they're hurling stones at "Obamacare" from glass houses.

The latest sniping erupted last week at a meeting of the Joint Health and Welfare Committee, which was set to hear from two administration officials on the state health insurance exchange.

A component of the Affordable Care Act signed by President Barack Obama in 2010, the exchange will provide a virtual marketplace in which consumers can comparison shop for health insurance and learn about new tax credits for employers and government subsidies to help make coverage more affordable.

The committee was hoping to get answers to questions raised by Republicans which administration officials could not answer at an earlier meeting. Instead, the Republicans introduced a motion condemning Gov. Steve Beshear's use of an executive order to set up Kentucky's exchange.

Republicans didn't even ask for the answers they had sought — or show any interest in more than 600,000 uninsured Kentuckians — before pulling their surprise. This tell us they were more interested in getting grist for campaign ads by forcing a pre-election vote on "Obamacare" than they were in getting answers to their questions, which were good questions.

Rather than walk into the trap, Democrats walked out, depriving the committee of a quorum. The Republicans approved the motion anyway, though it's unclear what effect, if any, a condemnatory motion by a quorum-less interim committee might have.

If there is solid legal ground for contesting Beshear's creation of the exchange, someone will probably file a lawsuit.

Meanwhile, 18 percent of adult Kentuckians under age 65 lack health insurance. Lack of health insurance is one of the reasons life expectancy is decreasing for white Americans who did not finish high school, a category that includes a lot of Kentuckians.

The federal government will run exchanges when states fail to establish them. But several interests, including the state Chamber of Commerce and Kentucky Hospital Association, have said a state-run exchange would be better.

Maybe once the election is past, Republican lawmakers will channel their knowledge and experience into helping solve Kentucky's health care challenges. They are huge and many, including designing a Medicaid expansion and making managed care Medicaid work.

That so many part-time lawmakers who have private-sector jobs rely on state government for their health care reveals how limited affordable options are. Surely, Republicans won't stand in the way of fellow Kentuckians' chances at better health.