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Beshear To Trump: Affordable Care Act ‘Isn’t A Game’

screenshot via PBS NewsHour, WFPL

After President Donald Trump cited Gov. Matt Bevin’s claim that the Affordable Care Act is “unsustainable and collapsing” in Kentucky during his address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear delivered the official Democratic response: Don’t dismantle Obamacare.

“You and your Republican allies in Congress seem determined to rip affordable health insurance away from millions of Americans who most need it,” Beshear said during his speech, which was broadcast from a diner in Lexington.

“Does the Affordable Care Act need some repairs? Sure it does,” Beshear said. “But so far, every Republican idea to replace the Affordable Care Act would reduce the number of Americans covered, despite your promises to the contrary.”

Beshear’s selection was notable in part because of his age and status as a retired politician: At 72 years old, he isn’t the up-and-comer normally tapped to deliver the opposing party’s rebuttal to the president.

But Beshear’s selection is significant because of his embrace of the Affordable Care Act during his time as governor, a move that has often been highlighted as a success of former President Barack Obama’s signature health care policy.

“Mr. President, folks here in Kentucky expect you to keep your word. Because this isn’t a game, it’s life and death for people,” Beshear said.

More than 500,000 Kentuckians gained health coverage as a result of the Affordable Care Act. About 400,000 got insurance through the expansion of the Medicaid system in the state and the rest through the implementation of Kynect, the now-dismantled state health exchange.

Since the 2013 implementation of the policy, the percentage of people without insurance in the state has dropped from more than 20 percent down to 8 percent.

But the accolades are rebutted by many of the state’s elected officials, notably Bevin — who campaigned on scaling back the Affordable Care Act in Kentucky — and Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, who are working to repeal the program in Congress.

Bevin dismantled Kynect over the course of 2016, and enrollees were transitioned to the federal platform. He’s also applied to change the state’s Medicaid expansion system by eliminating some benefits and requiring most recipients to pay premiums costing between $1 and $15 per month.

Trump gave a brief nod to Bevin during his address, citing the governor’s claim that the Affordable Care Act is failing in Kentucky.

“Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky just said Obamacare is failing in his state — the state of Kentucky — and it is unsustainable and collapsing,” Trump said.

Lower enrollment and higher costs prompted many insurers to leave the state exchange recently, and those that stayed hiked premiums significantly in 2017. Five companies that sold insurance on Kentucky’s health exchange in 2016 pulled out of the program for 2017. Those that remain are charging higher premiums.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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