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Beshear poised to expand Medicaid coverage

by Joe Arnold


Posted on May 8, 2013 at 12:19 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 8 at 4:49 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear is poised to expand Medicaid coverage to an estimated 400,000 Kentuckians with an announcement scheduled at the state capitol on Thursday.

Beshear told WHAS11 News that his decision has been made, yet his staff is "pulling all the information together so we can put it out to the public."

"Obviously from a health care standpoint with Kentucky being one of the least healthy states in the country, it makes sense if we can afford it to get more people covered by health insurance," Beshear said. "But we've been really digging into the numbers to try to make sure of exactly where it would put us financially if we went in that direction."

CN/2's Pure Politics reported that Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville told a reporter that the governor will announce he will expand Medicaid coverage, the federal health care program for the poor, elderly and disabled, as provided by the Affordable Care Act.

The impending news thrilled Tina Steier of Louisville, who has struggled to maintain medical checks for her hypertension and thyroid conditions because she does not health insurance and earns too much money working as a part-time server to qualify for Medicaid.

"It's just a guessing game," Steier said as she waited to see a physician at the Family Health Centers facility in Portland.  "Strokes, I mean other things can happen.  So everyday's a guessing game."

40,000 Jefferson County residents and 20,000 Family Health Centers clients would be added to the system with expansion, according to William Wagner, FHC Executive Director.  It also would help the not-for-profit community health center's bottom line.

"We're running an operating deficit right now because of the high percentage of uninsured patients," Wagner said, "53 percent of our patients are uninsured right now."

"Basically, I have to pay for it out of pocket or I don't get it done," Steier said, adding that her employer cut her work hours so as to avoid the Affordable Care Act's mandate to provide health insurance to full-time workers.

Under the law, the federal government would pick up the full tab of the increase for three years, but after that, Kentucky would have to fund ten percent of the added cost.

"We're going to make a broken program bigger, not better," argued Jim Waters, President of the Bluegrass Institute, a free-market think tank.

Expanding medicaid would inflict a one size fits all approach to Kentucky's unique health care needs, Waters continued, ultimately reducing access for the people for whom Medicaid was created.

"And that is the truly poor and the truly disabled.  They need the care.  We need to find other ways to provide the other people better care as well," Waters contended.

Those other people are hoping Beshear includes them.

"The difference that would make for me is the difference in security," said Craig Smith, an uninsured nursing student, "a difference in being able to get medical care when I need it and not just when I can afford it."

Beshear's decision comes after a failed Senate bill that would have required legislative approval for Medicaid expansion.

"I think it would be better to have more information out there and have more public discussion about it," said Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Wayne County.  "It's something that will have a tremendously significant impact.  Certainly, I don't want to see citizens out there who don't have health care coverage but we have no idea what the long term costs of this is going to be."

Yet, Norton Healthcare's President & CEO said expansion is the "right thing to do" and will ultimately cut Kentucky's health care costs.

"The cost of illness or the cost of waiting too far down the line to treat someone, drives up costs," Williams told WHAS11.  "If we can get to people earlier so that they are having good primary care -- and I'm talking about both children and adults -- if we can get them into a good primary care system, that keeps them from getting illnesses that will ultimately require treatment that would be far more costly."

Because entry into Medicaid expansion is optional, Beshear said Kentucky could later reconsider.

"At any point that a state wants to back off of the decision that they've made, they can," Beshear said, "So there's obviously an out for any state."

WHAS11 spoke to Beshear after he and Burch received "Just for Kids" Champion awards from Kosair Childrens Hospital.

"One of the highest obligations of anybody in a position of influence is to take care of our vulnerable populations," Beshear said after receiving the award.