Decision to expand Medicaid in Kentucky gets mixed reactions from state officials, advocates

05/09/2013 04:13 PM

Health advocates and groups that work with the poor couldn’t wait to praise Gov. Steve Beshear’s announcement about expanding Medicaid to more low income Kentuckians, with some groups even issuing their statements before Beshear’s official announcement at 1:30.

Others expressed concern, both about the cost and the fact that Beshear was able to make the decision without legislative approval.

Here’s a rundown of the reactions:

Congressman John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, released a statement Thursday commending the governor for his decision to expand medicaid:

“There are thousands of Kentuckians whose lives have already been improved – and some saved – because of the Affordable Care Act. And now, with the expansion of Medicaid, 308,000 uninsured Kentuckians will soon have access to affordable, quality health care and the economic stability that comes with it,” Yarmuth said. “I commend Gov. Beshear for his leadership and join him today in celebrating this historic decision.”

Republican Senate President Robert Stivers reitterated his position from the 2013 General Assembly session that the legislature should have to sign off on any major program expansion:

“The Senate made a clear policy statement that an expansion of the Medicaid program should be a legislatively-driven decision by passing SB 39 during the 2013 Session. I continue to believe this should not be a unilateral decision by the executive branch.”

Progressive think-tank Kentucky Center for Economic Policy also celebrated Beshear’s decision saying it would increase the health of Kentuckians and strengthen the foundation of Kentucky’s economy.

“The governor’s move will mean coverage for around half of the state’s uninsured adults, including workers who toil at low-wage jobs in restaurants, construction sites, nursing homes and day care centers, as well as 9,500 uninsured veterans,” KCEP Director Jason Bailey said in the statement. “It will also allow the state to take advantage of a great deal, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in new income to health care providers that will translate into jobs for nurses and health practitioners across the state. The expansion is a great step toward a healthier state and a stronger Commonwealth.”

The Catholic Conference of Kentucky expressed gratitude to Beshear in a press release at 10:44 a.m. — nearly three hours before Beshear’s announcement — stating Kentucky’s catholic bishops “welcome the news” of the expansion.

“We believe that health care is a basic human right,” said Rev. Patrick Delahanty, executive director of the Conference. “Opening up access to that care by providing health insurance to hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians who are now without it is the right thing to do. We applaud the Governor for his decision. We measure governmental policies by asking this primary question: how will this policy affect poor persons. Today, the Governor answered correctly.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said in a statement that governor’s decision to go ahead with the expansion proves that it is the right economic step for the state to take.

“I would challenge any public official opposing this move to surrender his or her own healthcare coverage,” Stumbo said. “I think it is hypocritical of those with excellent, taxpayer-supported benefits to criticize others who will now have accessible and affordable healthcare.”

Republicans on the other hand are not as pleased with the expansion. In a phone interview with Pure Politics, U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie said that the Medicaid expansion is not free money to cover the uninsured Kentuckians.

“We are working to try to get our budget under control but we have to be adjusting to the Medicaid budget,” Guthrie said. “So the states can expand expecting this money to be there but I am telling you, you can not balance the budget without reforming Medicaid.”

In a statement to Pure Politics, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell also disagreed with the governor’s decision because of the financial repercussions.

“Given Kentucky’s struggles to finance its current Medicaid program and the uncertainty of future federal funding, I am surprised the Governor would make this decision to further implement Obamacare and expose the Commonwealth’s taxpayers to more open ended expenses they cannot afford,” McConnell said. “Additionally, in my travels across Kentucky I have talked to a number of health care professionals who are concerned that a dramatic expansion of Medicaid enrollment would obviously exacerbate the already serious access-to-care problems we face in Kentucky.”

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Pure Politics airs Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. ET and again at 11:30 p.m. ET in all of cn|2's Kentucky markets. The program features political analysis and news, as well as interviews with officials, candidates, policy makers and political observers.

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