Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Steve Beshear announced the almost-final enrollment numbers for Kentuckians gaining access to health care coverage under Kynect before the spring deadline, in which a staggering 413,410 people — 9.6 percent of all Kentuckians — now have health insurance. Roughly 300,000 of these people previously did not have health insurance, and 52 percent of Kynect enrollees are under the age of 35.
One would assume that these hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians are quite grateful to now have insurance under Kynect, and according to his campaign’s latest FEC filing, that would include one of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s staffers:
Beyond all of these newly insured people, in the background of this issue is the politics of how Kynect — and the Affordable Care Act that birthed it — will play out in Kentucky’s elections this fall, particularly the U.S. Senate race. While “Obamacare” remains unpopular in Kentucky, a closer look at recent polls shows that Kynect and the Medicaid expansion under it is certainly not as toxic as the law with the president’s name attached to the front of it.
A New York Times poll released this week confirms this dynamic, showing that only 41 percent of Kentuckians want to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something else, while 52 percent want to keep the law and improve it. Further, a large majority say that the law has no impact on them, it has reduced the number of uninsured in Kentucky, and they support the birth control mandate for insurers. While only 29 percent say the government should not be involved in providing health coverage to middle-income people, 63 percent say that the government should provide financial assistance so people can purchase insurance or that the government itself should provide it, and 43 percent say that they know someone who was able to gain health care insurance because of the law.
But here’s the real kicker from the NYT poll: 53 percent of Kentuckians say that Kynect is working well, compared to only 23 percent who say it is not, and Gov. Steve Beshear — who has become the national face and model for implementing the Affordable Care Act — has an approval rating of 55 percent, with only 27 percent disapproving of his job performance. What Kentucky has done with the ACA is not just far from toxic, it is downright popular.
Despite those numbers, Alison Lundergan Grimes has avoided talking about Kynect’s success or the ACA in her Senate campaign. She favors the “keep and fix” approach with the law, but is very vague about details beyond that. While “keep and fix” is certainly popular, she’s not putting that at the forefront of her campaign message, unlike 6th District congressional candidate Elisabeth Jensen, or even Gov. Beshear, who has dared Republicans to try to run on repeal.
On the other hand, Sen. Mitch McConnell is beating the drum of repealing Obamacare “root and branch,” though he occasionally slips up and talks about a “fix.” Where this stance becomes dicey for him is when he’s asked what he would do for those 413,000 Kentuckians who have health insurance through Kynect, 300,000 of which were previously uninsured, if he succeeds in repealing the ACA. When cornered with this question, McConnell usually goes into talking points mode to avoid specifics, but last week His Swaggerness got McConnell to bite. Asked what he would do for terminally ill Kentuckians who would lose their new insurance if the ACA is repealed, McConnell actually presented what appears to be a specific answer:
“There are a lot of people like that, of course, who are losing what they had before, who were insured through the high-risk pool, who are losing what they had before,” McConnell said. “The way that should’ve been handled was state-based high-risk pools. Not at the federal level. Because for every one of those, you’ve got somebody who was insured and through a state-based high-risk pool, who lost their situation because they were wiped out Dec. 31 of 2013. So I’m worried about those people.”
Though he didn’t specifically name it, what McConnell is referring to here is Kentucky Access, the state’s former high-risk pool that helped provide insurance on the private market for Kentuckians who were otherwise turned down by insurance companies due to their pre-existing condition. The program operated from 2001 until the end of last year, when it was rendered moot by the ACA.
However, Kentucky Access was not very popular, as it was still too expensive for people to buy insurance. In 2013, only 3,988 Kentuckians gained coverage through the program — which did not provide the same consumer protections under the ACA — with the average basic premium for an individual being $680 a month, and the most popular plan with a pharmacy rider having a monthly premium of $1,118 for a male aged 64.
On the other hand, these same people — and hundreds of thousands more — can now gain coverage through Kynect, along with a subsidy to reduce their premium cost and new consumer protections that make their insurance more valuable if they have a medical emergency and cover the costs of basic check ups and screenings.
What McConnell is essentially saying is that we should just go back to the way it was before, with vulnerable Kentuckians having to rely on expensive insurance through an unpopular program that did not provide the same protections they have now. Kynect? 413,000 Kentuckians signing up for insurance in the exchange shows you what a popular insurance pool looks like. And yes, 413,000 is greater than 4,000.
LEO asked Gov. Beshear what he thought about McConnell’s prescription for the health of Kentuckians, and he provided the senator with some medicine:
“Sen. McConnell has finally floated an idea to help uninsured Kentuckians get access to health care — too bad it took him 30 years and the idea is unworkable.
High risk pools like Kentucky Access were designed to provide insurance to those who had been rejected by private health insurance because of pre-existing conditions. Even then, the monthly premiums were too high for many Kentuckians in need, so they just went without health care.
At its peak, Kentucky Access insured about 4,800 people. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act and kynect, we’ve now insured more than one hundred times that number. Kentuckians did their own research and discovered that through kynect, they can finally find affordable, reliable health insurance, and they’ve signed up in droves. It’s clear to me, and to hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians, which option is preferred by our citizens.
I’m glad that our senior senator is finally realizing that his long-promised plan to repeal the ACA and forcibly withdraw health insurance from 413,000 Kentuckians isn’t a real solution. kynect is working, and more than 1 in 10 Kentuckians finally have the health care they’ve needed but couldn’t access before.”
LEO also asked Congressman John Yarmuth about McConnell’s plan, who responded: “Mitch has finally said what he would do for the 413,000 Kentuckians whose health coverage he wants to take away: Nothing.”
There’s an opening for Grimes to go after McConnell on his supposed solution to Kynect. The question is, does she have the guts to go there?