Democrat Andy Beshear embraced the Affordable Care Act and vowed to undo Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s efforts to revamp Kentucky’s Medicaid program as key parts of a health care agenda he would pursue if elected governor this year.
Calling health care a “basic human right,” Beshear said he supports inserting ACA consumer protections into state law so Kentuckians “aren’t subject to political games” in Washington.
He touted a prescription drug spending cap to reap savings for Medicaid.
“My goal is to make sure every single Kentuckian has some form of coverage, and that we lower the cost for every single Kentucky family,” Beshear, the state’s attorney general, said at a news conference outside the state Capitol.
Looking to carry on his father’s legacy in health care policy, Beshear took aim at Bevin’s plan to impose work requirements as a condition for Medicaid coverage for some recipients.
Beshear denounced the plan as “callous” and said it would hurt health care in rural Kentucky.
Republicans have built a clear advantage in the state’s rural regions in becoming Kentucky’s dominant political party.
Bevin’s office did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment on Beshear’s plan.
Health care looms as a divisive issue as Bevin seeks a second term. Beshear is among four candidates seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in the May 21 primary.
Beshear’s father, former Gov. Steve Beshear, used an executive order to expand Kentucky’s Medicaid program. That order increased Medicaid rolls by more than 400,000 people to include coverage for able-bodied adults.
Bevin says the expansion was too expensive. He won federal permission to require some Medicaid recipients to have a job, go to school or do volunteer work to keep their benefits. The rules are set to take effect in April but face a court challenge.
Bevin’s administration has estimated the changes would reduce the state’s Medicaid rolls by about 95,000 people and save state taxpayers $300 million over five years.
Andy Beshear said he would protect the state’s Medicaid expansion, calling it a “national model” in reducing the ranks of the uninsured.
“Ending expanded Medicaid will gut, if not end, rural health care in most parts of our state,” Beshear said.
Beshear’s main rivals in the Democratic primary — Rocky Adkins and Adam Edelen — also embraced Medicaid expansion and said it should be protected. Adkins said Tuesday the expansion is “a game-changer” that has saved lives and improved the state’s health status.
“The work requirements that will be implemented by the current governor will restrict access to necessary care for some of the most vulnerable Kentuckians,” said Adkins, the state House minority floor leader. “He’s wrong and the policies should be reversed.”
Edelen, a former state auditor who served as a chief of staff to Steve Beshear, said Andy Beshear was following his campaign’s lead.
“Months ago, I presented my plan for protecting Kentucky’s expanded Medicaid population with a dedicated funding source, so future generations won’t have their health-care treated like a political football,” Edelen said.
Beshear, widely seen as the Democratic front-runner, repeatedly criticized Bevin while unveiling his health plan. The two are bitter rivals as Beshear, as attorney general, took Bevin to court repeatedly to challenge a number of his executive actions.
Beshear said his health care plan also seeks to ensure Kentuckians aren’t charged for preventive health services. He also wants to require that all health care plans cover mental health care services, and that young adults can stay on their parents’ plans until age 26.
But Beshear’s efforts to put elements of the Affordable Care Act into Kentucky law would likely face considerable resistance from the state’s Republican-dominated legislature. The federal health care law known as the ACA was championed by former President Barack Obama. Beshear has already joined a group of state attorneys general in defending the health-care law in the latest court challenge against the ACA.
Beshear said he also wants to prohibit “surprise” health care billings. He noted that his family received notice that they owed nearly $10,000 for medical testing for his wife that they thought was covered.
Beshear, who unveiled his plan on the same day President Donald Trump’s administration asserted in court that the entire ACA should be eliminated, also called for creating a prescription drug affordability board and proposed a prescription drug spending cap to control costs for Medicaid.
The other Democrat running for governor is frequent candidate Geoff Young. On the GOP side, Bevin faces challenges from state Rep. Robert Goforth, William Woods and Ike Lawrence.
Kentucky is one of three states that will elect governors in 2019, along with Louisiana and Mississippi.
This story has been updated.