New group formed by former Gov. Beshear looks to defend health initiatives that Gov. Bevin wants to shutter, amend

02/11/2016 09:04 PM

Former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, two months out of office, said Thursday that his conscience would not allow him to “ride off into the sunset” as he unveiled a nonprofit group that will advocate to retain federal health reforms he enacted.

Save Kentucky Healthcare, a 501(c )(4) organization, will be launching an online advertising campaign, said Beshear, who cited myriad statistics in defense of kynect, the state-based health exchange, and Medicaid expansion, such as the drop in uninsured rates across the state and the number of plans offered on kynect.

He also cited an economic report by Deloitte Consulting that Bevin has called “baloney.”

“Look, Gov. Bevin prides himself on being a successful businessman, and he should recognize and appreciate hard numbers, facts and evidence,” Beshear said at a press conference at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville.

“He should value the new research that day to day confirms the effectiveness of Kentucky’s approach to healthcare reform, but in the face of this mountain of evidence, he simply says, ‘I don’t believe it,’ and then continues to say that our current system is unsustainable. The evidence he cites to support that conclusion: absolutely none.”

Both kynect and Medicaid expansion, enacted by Beshear via executive order, are in Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s crosshairs.

Part of his budget would begin shuttering kynect as Bevin’s administration transitions to the federal insurance exchange, and the newly inaugurated governor has formed a committee to draft applications with the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for waivers in the Medicaid program.

Bevin said he and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell will meet “in about a week and a half along with key members of my team and key members of her team” to discuss potential waiver plans.

“It’s easy from the outside to sit there and point to studies paid for with other peoples’ money that are absolutely baloney and say that that is reason enough for the actual keeping of whatever it is that somebody would like,” Bevin said in a press conference outside his Capitol office Thursday.

“I will leave it to him and anybody else to do whatever it is that they choose to do with the free time that they obviously have plenty of,” he added.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he could not remember a former governor taking an openly adversarial position against their successor during his 19 years in Frankfort.

While he and Beshear collaborated on a number of issues in Beshear’s two terms in office, “this is one of the areas that we were in virtual total disagreement,” Stivers said.

“I think when and if some individuals in the press and especially the editorial boards will look at the statistics and facts, they would see that kynect was not the success it has portrayed to have been,” he said after the Senate adjourned.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, however, praised Beshear’s organization and its message, saying the former governor “is exactly right on that issue.”

“The dismantling of kynect, if you just go by the facts, is probably not a very good decision for Kentuckians,” Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, told reporters before gaveling in the House. “One, it’s working; two, it’s cost efficient; and three, what the governor really does by dismantling kynect is put a bunch of Kentuckians under the federal system, which he and others of his party call Obamacare,” a term referring to the federal health reform law.

Beshear’s group could turn into a political thorn for the GOP, but the former governor said he wasn’t yet sure whether Save Kentucky Healthcare would go that route with four special elections less than a month away that could place the Democrat-held House of Representatives into a 50-50 party split.

Stivers, asked about that prospect, pointed to Bevin’s 9-point win in November and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s nearly 16-point re-election in 2014 as a litmus test of voters’ attitudes on the Affordable Care Act after both campaigned on undoing what aspects of the federal health law that they could.

“If it is, it appears to be a losing political issue,” Stivers said.

Republican Party of Kentucky Chairman Mac Brown and five GOP lawmakers — U.S. Reps. Andy Barr and Thomas Massie, state Sens. Julie Raque Adams and Ralph Alvarado, and Rep. Robert Benvenuti — rebuked Beshear for creating Save Kentucky Healthcare.

“It defies logic that former Governor Beshear continues to extol the virtues of Obamacare,” Brown said in a statement. “I wonder how many State House Democrats will embrace the failed Obama-Beshear legacy as they pursue reelection this year.”

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, sees Beshear’s organization as a “wonderful effort and opportunity to educate the public about what a fabulous program Kentucky kynect has been for easy access for people all across Kentucky.”

“I think having him be the leader, the spearhead to get this of the ground is really going to send a message that this is important,” she said of Beshear’s involvement.

Despite Bevin’s moves to begin phasing out kynect in favor of the federal exchange and requesting changes to the state’s Medicaid program, Marzian is holding out hope that he’ll reverse course.

“Hopefully he will decide to do what’s best for Kentucky citizens and quit playing political games,” she said.

Others on the Save Kentucky Healthcare board, chaired by Beshear, include former first lady Jane Beshear, former Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen and former Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Audrey Tayse Haynes.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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