As Kentucky’s attorney general wages a legal fight to protect the Affordable Care Act and its beneficiaries, new polling Thursday shows adults in the Bluegrass State may be permanently divided on the health care overhaul.
Democrat Andy Beshear, who is running for governor in 2019, joined more than a dozen other attorneys general this month to combat a federal judge’s ruling that determined former President Barack Obama’s signature achievement was unconstitutional.
Beshear declared during a press conference two weeks ago that many family’s lives hanging in the balance because of the ruling. He pointed out the state would lose a projected $49.7 billion in federal funding for expanded Medicaid, which has given 500,000 Kentuckians health care insurance.
But opinions of the federal law and its benefits haven’t changed much in the past year, according to new figures from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.
Forty-four percent of Kentucky adults have a favorable opinion of the law while 33 percent don’t like it, according to the most recent group’s survey. That’s the same as last year, according to the poll.
“I feel like this suggests that the number has settled into a place where it will not move,” Ben Chandler, the group’s president and CEO, said in an interview Thursday.
Slightly more than half of the respondents say the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has had no impact on them and their families. About 20 percent were equally split between saying it had either a positive or negative impact.
Chandler said what’s affected people more than anything has been Medicaid expansion and changes in the individual market, but that those are relatively small portions of Kentucky’s overall population.
Former Gov. Steve Beshear expanded Medicaid in 2013 to cover adults with an annual income up to 138 percent of the U.S. poverty line. The state saw its number of uninsured residents drop dramatically.
Gov. Matt Bevin, a critic of the law, has applied for a waiver approved by President Donald Trump’s administration that would require able-bodied adults to work or volunteer up to 80 hours a month, pay their own premiums for Medicaid and, in some cases, have to pocket the cost of their co-pays.
The health foundation says the waiver, which is set to begin April 1, will reduce the number of people enrolled in Medicaid.
Kentucky adults have warmed up to the benefits of the law — such as mandatory coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowing people to stay on a parent’s insurance until age 26 — since its passage in 2010.
That’s even after a heavy drumbeat of criticism about rising costs and other concerns from the state’s top Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who pledged he would spearhead repealing the law “root and branch.”
Roughly 26 percent of Kentuckians told pollsters eight years ago that they approved of the law while 47 percent disapproved. Since then its favorable numbers have grown by 18 percentage points while unfavorable views took a nosedive of 13 percentage points after Obama left office in 2017, according to the foundation’s polling.
Chandler, a Democrat, voted against the law when he was a member of Congress representing central Kentucky. He said the Affordable Care Act has suffered from “misinformation” for years, but that he doesn’t regret opposing it in 2010.
Chandler, who was booted out of office in 2012, said the law hasn’t covered as many people as he would have liked and hasn’t cut costs to the extent he would have liked either. He described the health care law as, “essentially the Republican free-market approach to coverage” that didn’t do enough.
The former congressman said that the law has also been too steep of a price for Democrats at the ballot box.
“I never thought it was a political winner, personally,” Chandler said. “I think health care is too difficult to explain, and it’s too easy to frighten people with.”
“When it passed in 2010, the cost was so dramatic it has essentially cost, in my opinion, Democrats control of governments both on the state and national level ever since. How many other laws could have been passed that would have been beneficial from a Democratic point of view that weren’t able to be done because of the controversy surrounding the Affordable Care Act?”
Andy Beshear has said his office taking legal action isn’t tied to his bid for the governor’s mansion, but it has been noted by political observers that he hasn’t talked much about health care on the campaign trail. He didn’t mention the issue at all during his announcement for governor in June.
The law’s approval in Kentucky has increased even as a sizable number admit they don’t fully understand how it affects them, according to the poll.
About 56 percent of adults surveyed said they have enough information to understand the Affordable Care Act’s impact, but 41 percent still say they don’t.
Along party lines, Democrats and Republicans differ greatly about the law’s impact on them personally. The poll finds 3 in 10 Democrats reported the health care overhaul had positively affected them and their families, while only about 1 in 10 Republicans reported being positively affected.
On the flip side, 3 in 10 Republicans said the law had negatively affected them and their families, while 1 in 10 Democrats said the same.