In a New York Times op-ed published on Thursday, Kentucky’s governor implores his fellow Southern states to put the health of their citizens above the politicized fight over Obamacare. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) notes that the health reform law could have a huge impact on the struggling Americans who live in red states, and he’s “offended” that so many state leaders are so preoccupied with resisting it.
“There’s a huge disconnect between the rank partisanship of national politics and the outlook of governors whose job it is to help beleaguered families, strengthen work forces, attract companies and create a balanced budget,” the governor writes. He points out that “it’s no coincidence” that the handful of Republican governors who have bucked their party and agreed to implement Obamacare’s provisions see the health law “not as a referendum on President Obama but as a tool for historic change.”
Under Beshear, Kentucky is the only Southern state that is actively participating in both of the health law’s two major provisions to extend coverage to uninsured people — the optional Medicaid expansion and the state-level insurance marketplaces. Many GOP-led states have resisted doing any work to set up those pieces of the law because they don’t want to appear to be cooperating with Obamacare.
But that stubborn refusal to implement Obamacare has a huge impact on the most vulnerable residents of the country. Poor Americans’ access to health care already varies hugely among states, and those gaps are only getting wider. Ironically, even though poor Americans in the South have the most to gain from Medicaid expansion, their lawmakers are the ones refusing to cooperate with it. Ultimately, the political fight over Medicaid is expected to widen the gulf between what are already the healthiest and sickest states in the country.
Wen comparing health outcomes by zip code, Kentucky is currently considered to be one of those very sick states. Beshear notes that his state ranks among the worst in nearly every major health category, like smoking, heart disease, diabetes, cancer deaths, and preventable hospitalizations.
“Frankly, we can’t implement the Affordable Care Act fast enough,” Beshear points out. “As for naysayers, I’m offended by their partisan gamesmanship, as they continue to pour time, money and energy into overturning or defunding the Affordable Care Act. It’s shameful that these critics haven’t invested that same level of energy into trying to improve the health of our citizens.”
Kentucky’s own senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, are two of the most vocal opponents of health reform. Paul is currently endorsing a far-right strategy to force the government to shut down unless Obamacare is defunded.
Beshear doesn’t see the logic in that. “Here in Kentucky, we cannot afford to waste another day or another life,” he concludes.