Politics
4:42 pm
Fri January 24, 2014

Poll: Majority of Kentuckians Support Expanded Medicaid Under Obamacare, Including Most Republicans

Credit Shutterstock.com

An overwhelming majority of Kentuckians support the state's decision to expand Medicaid for low-income residents under the Affordable Care Act, including most self-identified Republicans.

That's according to a new poll released by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky this month, which is the first since the health care rollout began in the state.

It shows 79 percent of residents favor Governor Steve Beshear’s decision to expand Medicaid rolls last year.

The poll finds nearly 90 percent of surveyed adults saying it is important for the state to do so.

Under the president's health care law states are provided funding to increase Medicaid eligibility to all residents with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled state governments have a right to opt out of that provision, and about half have decided against Medicaid expansion.

In Kentucky, residents have had an unfavorable opinion of President Obama's signature overhaul.

But Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky President and CEO Susan Zepeda says their polling has consistently shown residents embrace key provisions of the law such as barring pre-existing conditions and tax incentives for employers.

"Kentuckians have throughout the years that we've been asking this question supported access," she says. "They do poll as not knowing a lot about the Affordable Care Act or opposing it at about the same rate that national surveys find."

"The interesting thing to us on the expansion support is it does seem aligned with Kentuckians willingness to recapture the funds that Kentucky has sent to Washington in the form of our taxes, to get those back to Kentuckians through the appropriation process or in this case through embracing the Medicaid expansion."

Since the state launched it health exchange last October, over 162,000 Kentuckians have enrolled in either Medicaid or private health plans. State officials estimate approximately 308,000 uninsured residents will now qualify for health care coverage due to Medicaid expansion.

Most Kentucky Republicans at the state and federal level have been critical of Beshear’s decision, either questioning his constitutional authority to expand the entitlement program or pointing out the state will have to pick up the additional cost in the coming years.

Under the health care law, federal funding will decrease gradually after three years to about 90 percent at the end of the decade.

In a statement, Robert Steurer, a spokesman for Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told WFPL adding more Kentuckians to the state's "struggling Medicaid program" is not the solution.

"Senator McConnell continues to hear daily from constituents who are upset and angry that Obamacare means higher premiums and deductibles and less access to the doctors and hospitals they trust. More than 280,000 Kentuckians have had their private insurance policies canceled, despite the president’s repeated promise that 'if you like your plan, you can keep it.' But according to the Governor’s office, fewer than 40,000 Kentuckians have signed up for new private plans. Most new Obamacare enrollees are not on private plans, but are added to the state’s struggling Medicaid program, where one hundred percent of these costs will be picked up by taxpayers and where there is already a shortage of physicians accepting Medicaid patients.

The foundation's polling shows most Kentucky adults who identify as GOP voters agree with the governor, however.

Along party affiliation the survey shows 90 percent of Democrats and 83 percent of independents support expanding the Medicaid rolls.

Among Republicans, 60 percent said they either strongly or somewhat favor the decision. Specifically, 27 percent said they "strongly favor" expansion compared to 33 percent who "favor somewhat" the decision.

"We agree that making health care accessible to all Kentuckians is a worthy goal," says Jodi Whitaker, spokeswoman for the state Senate GOP. "We have better ideas on ways  to make that happen, though."

"Our proposals would include tort reform and a plan to increase the number of health-care providers in Kentucky."

The poll's findings pull back some of the partisan lenses that the law has been viewed through since its passage four years ago.

All of the states rejecting Medicaid expansion are represented by Republican governors, and a study by The Commonwealth Fund shows those states are set to lose billions of dollars in federal funds in the coming years.

Congressman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., who voted for health care reform in 2010, says the survey should serve as a wake up call for the GOP in 2014, adding it shows residents are more interested in the law's benefits than its ongoing politics.

"This means that people like Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell are clearly out of touch with their own party in Kentucky as it relates to at least that portion of the law," he says. "Virtually every Republican in the state has been critical of not only the law, but Gov. Beshear's decision to expand Medicaid to cover a lot more low-income people."

"This poll indicates people understand the magnitude of the problem in Kentucky with poor health outcomes and with very poor access to health care for many of our citizens, and they're actually showing a broader concern so that's very positive."

Related program: