Though it has been largely ignored by national media and pollsters, Kentucky’s November gubernatorial election could mean striking changes for the Bluegrass State. The nation’s most unlikely Obamacare success story — a state system that has provided more than 500,000 Kentuckians with affordable health insurance — might well be ransacked by a Tea Party candidate named Matt Bevin.
From the earliest days, Kentucky’s efforts to implement Obamacare have earned national acclaim. As the troubled roll out of the national health care exchange website was ruthlessly mocked by late night television, Fortune praised “one health exchange success story“: Kentucky’s new state-level marketplace.
Unlike most southern states, Kentucky opted to both set up its own state exchange (the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange, commonly known as “Kynect”) and to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. These efforts, ordered by Gov. Steve Beshear (D) and overseen by Governing magazine’s 2014 Public Official of the Year Carrie Banahan, helped get 521,000 Kentuckians insurance coverage in the first year alone. According to a Gallup poll, by the first half of 2015, Kentucky’s uninsured rate had fallen from 20.4 percent in 2013 to just 9 percent, the second largest drop of any state. Governing fêted Kentucky as “one of the few states that got everything right.”
In testimonials provided to ThinkProgress by Kentucky Voices for Health, a coalition of health advocacy groups, many Kentuckians agreed. “Thank God for Kynect,” said Eddie Alvis, who after years of struggling financially was able to get health insurance, and discovered he had severe asthma. “It has really empowered me,” said Lynn Young, a Louisville resident who got insured despite her recent unemployment. And Helen Spalding, who lost her job and benefits after a serious car accident, was also able to purchase insurance. “Kynect has been here for me,” she said. “It’s a blessing.”
But with Beshear term-limited, Bevin, the GOP nominee, has made it clear he wants to reverse course. The Tea Party-backed candidate vows he’ll do away with both the successful state exchange and the Medicaid expansion that has helped hundreds of thousands get affordable health care — moves that the governor could likely make unilaterally.