Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell traded views on health-care reform at the Kentucky Farm Bureau's country-ham breakfast at the Kentucky State Fair, but McConnell made much less of the issue than he had in previous years.
"The governor and I have debated Obamacare at this breakfast the last two or three years," McConnell said, well into his 11-minute speech, which followed Beshear's. "I’ll spare you my rebuttal other than to say higher premiums, higher co-payments, higher deductibles, lost jobs and a big bill coming to state government for Medicaid expansion in a couple of years."
Earlier, Beshear won applause from Thursday's crowd of 1,500 when he pointed out that the share of Kentuckians has been reduced by 56 percent through "our aggressive embrace of federal health reform." He added, "And we’ve done so without jeopardizing our budget. Oh, I know, I know the political rhetoric you hear from health-reform opponents who say it’s costing us thousands of jobs and we’re gonna bankrupt our state. Well, as I’ve said a lot of times, everybody is entitled to their own opinion but nobody is entitled to their own facts."
Beshear cited the state-funded study by Deloitte Consulting, which found that "Kentucky actually created 12,000 new jobs in the first full year of health-care reform, and it’s predicted to create over 40,000 new jobs by 2021." Those figures do not reflect job losses at hospitals, which blame Medicaid managed-care companies and health reform for layoffs.
"Instead of bankrupting our state, Deloitte’s report predicts a positive 820-million-dollar impact over eight years on state and local governments," Beshear said. That prediction is based on the belief that the Medicaid expansion is increasing health-care payrolls and generating more tax revenue; in 2021, the last year for which Deloitte made predictions, it said the expansion would cost more than it brings in.
Beshear expanded Medicaid eligibility to households with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The federal government is paying the entire cost of the newly eligible through 2016; in 2017 states will begin paying 5 percent of that cost, rising in steps to the law's limit of 10 percent in 2020.
Defending his decision, Beshear said, "There is a direct line from poor health to almost every challenge that Kentucky faces: whether that's poverty, unemployment, lags in educational attainment, substance abuse or crime. Our aggressive embrace of federal health reform has brought health-care coverage to over a half a million more Kentuckians, including many farm families."
Alluding to the Nov. 3 election that will choose his successor, Beshear said, "There is no doubt that we are headed in the right direction at a very rapid pace. And we need to accelerate that momentum, for all of our sakes, instead of going back to the Dark Ages. Now, some people refused to acknowledges these accomplishments, or they try to put partisan spin on them. As we know this is the silly season, campaign season, and some people can’t help themselves. But the fact is, Kentucky is back."
(McConnell, Beshear and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer agreed on at least one thing: Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who lost the Republican gubernatorial primary by 83 votes to Matt Bevin, has done a great job. "You inherited a mess, and you cleaned it up, and you ran an outstanding department," McConnell said.)In his weekly commentary the next day, Beshear noted the big increase in preventive screenings of Medicaid clients: "No longer are their medical choices limited to emergency-room or charity medical visits."