A public meeting in Frankfort to get stakeholders' input about development of a state-operated health insurance exchange Monday was attended by dozens of Tea Party activists taking issue with Gov. Steve Beshear's intention to create it. "It was absolutely a formal protest," said organizer David Adams, who writes the blog Kentucky Progress and managed Louisville businessman Phil Moffett's campaign for the Republican nomination for governor last year. "We are very, very strongly opposed and we're just getting started with our protest."
Last week, Beshear announced his intention to create a state-run exchange if the Affordable Care Act is upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court. Since 30 million Americans who don't have coverage now would be required to buy insurance under the law's mandate, the exchange would act as a marketplace in which individuals and employees of small business can choose from several plans that have coverage packages pre-approved by state and federal governments. The people buying from the exchange would be given subsidies to help pay their premiums.
States have the option to create their own exchange or have the federal government run one for them. Through February, Kentucky had received nearly $60 million to help set up an exchange, money officials said would be used for planning.
Several major business lobbies have said the state should have its own exchange, but Adams argues that if there is an exchange, the federal government should run it.
"This idea that if the state does it then we have some kind of control is like saying since we run Medicaid, we have control over Medicaid, which is absolutely not the case," he said. "If we have a state-run health insurance exchange, we will run it in the exact way that the federal government wants us to." He said he fears that once a state-run exchange is set up, "when federal funds run out, we'll be responsible for financing it."
"There is a place for helping people who absolutely can't help themselves," Adams acknowledged, but since people with an income of up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level qualify for the exchange, "We've changed the definition of who can't help themselves. We've moved that line way up into the middle class. In every part of life that we've done that, that has been very counter-productive."
Though the Supreme Court's decision about whether to uphold the mandate won't be known until June, Adams said he felt it was necessary to protest Monday's meeting "to demand that the government send back the $60 million and stop any activities of setting up an exchange." "I don't think anybody really believes that we need $60 million in federal grant money to set up a website to help people buy health insurance," he said. "We need to return that money and operate on a more fiscally feasible path."
In response to a question, Adams said the protest was not held to stir anti-Obama sentiment that might help Kentucky Republican candidates in the November elections. He said the insurance exchange is "just the tip of the spear" and that "the best thing we can do in managing our health care problems is stop going in the wrong direction."
Kentucky Health News is a service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.