By L. Clark Williams
While launching the Save Kentucky Healthcare campaign, former Gov. Steve Beshear proclaimed this month that he could not “sit idly by” and allow health care to be taken away from families that desperately need it “without a fight.”
Though current Gov. Matt Bevin’s successful gubernatorial campaign was against Democratic nominee Jack Conway, Beshear’s declaration actually marked the beginning of Bevin v. Beshear, round two.
Incidentally, the democratic process lost round one.
In December, much like a prize fighter in a heavyweight boxing match, Bevin delivered a vicious blow to former felony offenders across the commonwealth, when he reversed Beshear’s late-term executive order that would have allowed 170,000 former offenders to get their voting rights back via an automatic restorative process.
As for round two, Kentuckians have a long history of lacking adequate health care and being in poor health. In 2012, according to Save Kentucky Healthcare, 640,000 residents did not have health insurance and Kentucky ranked at or near the bottom of national health-related rankings in areas such as heart disease, cancer deaths and obesity.
In response to those disturbing conditions, then-Gov. Beshear opted, under the Affordable Care Act, to create Kynect — a state-controlled health care exchange; he also elected to expand Medicaid to cover those with incomes of up to 138 percent of federal poverty guidelines. As a result, over 500,000 people are now insured that were not before.
Nevertheless, Bevin has notified federal officials that he intends to dismantle Kynect and has also indicated that his administration will pursue a federal waiver that would allow the state to limit Medicaid participation levels in the future.
There are a number of reasons why Bevin should reconsider.
A few weeks ago, Bevin’s budget proposal called for $650 million in cuts, largely to shore up the state’s ailing pension systems. With that in mind, the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services estimated last summer that shutting down Kynect would cost millions in additional expenses.
Moreover, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that Kentucky may have to return up to $57 million from a federal grant if the state proceeds with Bevin’s plan to unwind the state-operated health care exchange. Therefore, ending Kynect appears to be fiscally irresponsible at a time when the state can least afford it.
According to a Gallup Poll, the state’s uninsured rate dropped from 20 percent to nine percent between 2013 and 2015. This victory has largely been attributed to expanded Medicaid. Bevin argues that Medicaid expansion is not financially sustainable.
However, a study conducted by Deloitte, one of the four leading global accounting firms, found that Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion will pay for itself due to the jobs and corresponding tax revenue generated by increased health care. Bevin dismissively calls this study a “straight up, straight out lie” without offering any specified findings that support his position.
Additionally, opting out of Kynect in favor of the federal exchange is inconsistent with Bevin’s conservatism that would ordinarily compel him to staunchly oppose the expansion of federal involvement in matters already operating under state control. But these are not ordinary times.
In Kentucky, and a number of other states, anything associated with President Barack Obama is automatically deemed to be bad or inferior. This outlook prompted the president’s opposition to refer to the Affordable Care Act as “Obamacare,” as a way of vilifying it. That same sentiment helped to catapult Bevin into the governor’s mansion, as he campaigned on a promise to dismantle the very Obamacare that was benefitting so many who ultimately voted for him.
Going backward, as the nation’s stereotype of Kentucky would suggest that we would, is not a righteous option. Many in Kentucky are proud of their pro-life positions, but anyone who is truly pro-life must believe in health care for all.
So, in order for the health care of Kentuckians to win round two of Bevin v. Beshear, the people must speak up for righteousness and pray that Bevin will listen.