Conway declines Bevin's invitation for health care debate after Kentucky insurance co-op's closure

10/14/2015 07:45 PM

Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway says he hopes the next two gubernatorial debates feature questions on the Affordable Care Act, but he will not accept his opponent’s invitation for a forum focused solely on the topic.

Republican Matt Bevin challenged Conway to debate the federal health law on Tuesday, saying “Kentuckians deserve to know how each of us would handle the very real and costly flaws of Obamacare.” Bevin’s invitation came days after officials with Kentucky Health Cooperative, a co-op created under the Affordable Care Act that operated in all 120 counties, announced the non-profit insurer would not offer health plans during this year’s open enrollment period, which begins Nov. 1.

The co-op, which had received $146.5 million in federal loans according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and covered about 51,000 Kentuckians, is the sixth such program to shut down by the end of 2015, joining co-ops in New York, Tennessee, Louisiana, Iowa and Nevada.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a vocal critic of the federal health law who promised to repeal it “root and branch” in his re-election campaign last year, called the co-op’s closure “the latest in a string of broken promises with real consequences for the people of Kentucky who may now be losing the health insurance they had and liked twice within the past three years because of Obamacare’s failures.”

Kentucky Health Cooperative interim CEO Glenn Jennings said in a news release Friday that the nonprofit had reduced its deficit from about $50 million at the end of 2014 to $4 million by midyear, but CMS’s decision to only grant 12.6 percent in risk corridor reimbursements to co-ops across the country “led to an unavoidable outcome.”

Kentucky’s risk corridor reimbursement totaled $9.7 million compared to an initial share of $77 million, according to the news release.

Conway, speaking after a United Auto Workers retirees luncheon on Wednesday, said his opponent has “been debating himself on health care it seems like for the last four or five months.”

“Let him continue to do that,” he said. “We’ve got two more debates scheduled on the 25th and 26th. Hopefully in that debate the moderator will actually ask a question on health care, and I look forward to talking to him about it.

“But what’s been clear from Matt Bevin, and he can’t get away from this, is that in the early days of his campaign when asked a question about whether he would undo Gov. (Steve) Beshear’s executive order expanding Medicaid, he said absolutely, no question about it, I would reverse that immediately. And that would, in effect, kick nearly half a million people off of their health insurance, and I think that’s callous.”

Conway is referencing a statement from Bevin during a February press conference, which has been widely quoted in political advertising. Bevin has since said he would seek 1115 waivers from CMS to serve Kentucky’s health care needs.

Conway disagreed with Bevin and others who point to Kentucky Health Cooperative’s failure as an indictment against the Affordable Care Act, saying the co-op suffered from insurmountable growing pains in the two years it offered health coverage. He added that seven insurers will offer health plans on kynect, the state-based exchange, when open enrollment begins Nov. 1, up from three in 2014.

“It was a question of sort of a not-for-profit starting up, trying to put it together,” he said. “Were they managed the right way? Did they have adequate reserves? It’s more market forces coming down on them in terms of how they ran their particular operation.”

“We’re doing this the Kentucky way, and we’re doing this the right way,” he continued, adding that any financial shortfalls at the co-op “would have to be picked up by the federal government.”

Bevin’s campaign seized on that remark, quoting an editorial published by The Wall Street Journal that said Kentucky Health Cooperative operated at a 158 percent premium-to-expense ratio and the $146.5 million in federal loans would be flushed “down the tubes” with the co-op’s closure.

Jessica Ditto, Bevin’s campaign spokeswoman, called Conway’s comments “offensive” and said the Democratic nominee “continues to make broken promises when we see the very real impact of this unsustainable program hurting families today.”

“Jack Conway calls a $146.5 million loss a success?” she said in a statement to Pure Politics. “Jack Conway needs to explain to the voters of Kentucky why he didn’t do anything when the state’s largest ObamaCare co-op was on the brink of collapse. Under his watch 51,000 Kentuckians have lost their insurance and what has he done to protect them?”

Gov. Steve Beshear, speaking to Pure Politics at a Kentucky National Guard event in Frankfort, said Kentucky Health Cooperative’s decision “is really not going to make any big difference in terms of health care in Kentucky.”

He also noted that seven insurers are offering plans on kynect and those who had been enrolled in coverage through the co-op “are going to be able to transition to another company, they’ll have a choice, they will get just as good a plan.”

“We’re marching right on, and our folks are getting the health care that they need for the first time in their lives,” Beshear said, “and over a generation it’s going to make a huge difference in the success of Kentucky.”

Pure Politics managing editor Nick Storm contributed to this report.


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.