Steve Beshear: McConnell took Medicaid comments out of context


Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell should be careful not to hurt himself with the contorted stretching he and other critics are continuing to do in their increasingly farcical opposition to the federal Affordable Care Act, or ACA, and its underlying goal of improving access to affordable health care for all Americans.

The senator's blanket statement in a recent column in the Herald-Leader that "most Kentuckians oppose" the act must be based on the complaints he hears in the echo chamber he and other critics have created and continue to nurture.

Because the reality in Kentucky — many hundreds of miles from the senator's offices and home in Washington — is different.

More than half a million Kentuckians have logged on to Kynect, our state's health insurance exchange, and over 150,000 have contacted our call center to get information about affordable health care.

A thousand Kentuckians a day (about 69,000 so far) are signing up for private-sector insurance or expanded Medicaid made available by the ACA, and we expect to see that pace accelerate as the end of the year approaches.

There is a huge demand for affordable insurance here. We have a lot of farmers, construction workers, teachers, nurse's aides, restaurant and retail staff and others who were hurt by the recession.

Furthermore, a lot of the voiced opposition evaporates once people understand the actual provisions of the new law and how it will affect them. Unfortunately, that requires that they first claw their way out of the avalanche of misinformation dumped on them by the senator and other politically motivated critics of the act.

In the same column, the senator took a statement I made nearly three years ago and used it out of context to try to build support for his position. Here's the real story:

Back in 2011, shortly after the ACA was passed, when Kentucky was trying to figure out a way to make up for a $100 million Medicaid shortfall that arose primarily because the federal government decided not to enhance federal matching rates, I wondered aloud how Kentucky could pay for Medicaid expansion.

But like governors are supposed to do, I went seeking answers and I found them.

First, we are saving money (approximately $1.3 billion this biennium) by joining many other states in switching our Medicaid delivery model from an obsolete fee-for-service model to a managed-care model.

Second, I commissioned two independent studies of the Medicaid expansion that is part of the ACA, one by the PricewaterhouseCoopers actuarial firm and a second by the Urban Studies Institute at the University of Louisville.

Those studies made it clear that Kentucky could afford Medicaid expansion and would be better off economically by doing so.

According to these outside experts, the expansion will bring a positive economic impact to the state of $15.6 billion and a positive impact to our General Fund of some $800 million over eight years, in addition to creating more than 17,000 jobs.

The bottom line is that, despite some challenges implementing it on the federal level, the core principles of the Affordable Care Act are strong, and they will make Kentucky and America a better place over the next generation.

The senator has had three decades to develop a plan to provide Kentuckians with affordable health care but has failed to do so.

Thanks to the ACA we are now on a path to accomplish that goal, and the senator and other critics should either join us in reaching that goal or get out of the way.

At issue: Nov. 25 commentary by Sen. Mitch McConnell, "Editorial ignores facts; new health law is a failure"

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