After months of deliberations, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has decided to expand Medicaid in Kentucky under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare—a move that's won praise from Democrats and health advocacy groups. Beshear said Thursday that expansion benefits Kentucky in many ways. "This move makes sense not only for our health but also for our pocketbook. More important it makes sense for our future," he says. The expansion will insure more than 308,000 Kentuckians. And according to studies done by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the Urban Studies Institute at the University of Louisville, Medicaid expansion would bring about $800 million to Kentucky between next year and 2021.
Beshear says critics of the expansion are more worried about politics than good policy.
"They express vague and broad anxieties about costs, fears which the facts refute and they fall back on partisan national politics. If Kentucky expands Medicaid they ask, won't Kentucky be supporting Obamacare, they ask. Well to them I say, Get over it," he says.
Under the federal legislation, states can extend their Medicaid rolls to people who are at the 138 percent line of the federal poverty line, with the federal government paying the bill for three years. After that, the federal government will pay 90 percent and Kentucky will pick up the rest.
Several groups have come out in support of expansion, including the AARP and Kentucky Voices for Health.
Kentucky Voices for Health ran ads pushing the governor toward expansion. And Executive Director Regan Hunt says the expansion will help improve the state's poor health ratings, which are among the more embarrassing statistics about Kentucky.
"I mean it's definitely not going to happen overnight, but I'm excited to see what happens in Kentucky health-wise in some of those rankings in the next few years," she says.
Tea party activist David Adams says he disputes Beshear's claim that expansion will create thousands of jobs and bring $800 million into the state over the next eight years.
"The idea that this is going to be some kind of jobs program is hilarious, what you're going to see happen is people drop out of gainful employment and go onto Medicaid," he says.
But most of the response was supportive of Beshear's decision. AARP Kentucky associate state director Cathy Allgood Murphy says the decision gives people peace of mind.
"Despite decades of hard work, too many Kentuckians are one illness or one accident away from financial ruin because they lack access to affordable, adequate health care coverage," she says. "By accepting federal funds for health care expansion, Kentucky can make a real difference in the lives of thousands of people."
U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, a Democrat, also praised Beshear's decision.
"There are thousands of Kentuckians whose lives have already been improved – and some saved – because of the Affordable Care Act," Yarmuth says. "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. I commend Gov. Beshear for his leadership and join him today in celebrating this historic decision.”
As did Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo.
“I applaud Governor Beshear for making this decision," Stumbo says. "The studies confirm what many of us thought all along: Taking this step is not only the right thing to do, it makes economic sense. I would challenge any public official opposing this move to surrender his or her own healthcare coverage. I think it is hypocritical of those with excellent, taxpayer-supported benefits to criticize others who will now have accessible and affordable healthcare.”