FRANKFORT, Kentucky — The number of people in Kentucky without health insurance fell 5.8 percent last year, the largest drop of any state in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Kentucky was one of 31 states that chose to increase the number of people eligible to receive taxpayer-funded health insurance in 2013. Since then, Kentucky has added about 400,000 people to its Medicaid program and has been held up as an example by President Barack Obama of the success of his health care law.
Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said the numbers show Kentuckians are not waiting until they are sick to go to the doctor.
"This step toward a healthier Kentucky has a direct link to our economic future because better health, especially for our workforce, has tangible positive impacts: fewer sick days, more production and a higher quality of life for our citizens," he said.
While the new data shows Kentucky had the largest drop in its uninsured population, the decrease was statistically a tie with Nevada and West Virginia. Both of those states also expanded their respective Medicaid programs. Overall, states that expanded their Medicaid programs had an average uninsured rate of 9.8 percent, compared with 13.8 percent for states that did not expand.
Beshear expanded Kentucky's Medicaid program by executive order in 2013. He did not need legislative approval because the federal government paid for 100 percent of the expansion for the first three years. That changes in January 2017, when the state will have to begin paying for a portion of the expansion. By then, Beshear will have left office and handed control of state government over to the next governor.
Independent candidate for governor Drew Curtis said during Tuesday night's Bluegrass Poll debate he would "leave it alone as it is," adding the state has already pushed people into the expanded program. Democratic candidate Jack Conway said he would "continue to do what Gov. Steve Beshear has done" and criticized Republican Matt Bevin for wanting to "kick half a million people off of health insurance."
"If we can't afford something by 2021, we can always scale back," Conway said. "But I think the action Mr. Bevin has proposed is callous."
Bevin said in February he would end the Medicaid expansion immediately. Tuesday night, he said he would seek a waiver from the federal government to "customize a solution specifically for Kentuckians."
"We cannot continue to have people, 25 growing to 30 percent of this state, on Medicaid as Medicaid currently exists," Bevin said. "We want to have as many Kentuckians as we possibly can covered with as much health care as possible at the most affordable price for Kentucky taxpayers."
A report commissioned by Beshear from Deloitte Consulting and the University of Louisville's Urban Studies Institute found the expansion would cost taxpayers $1.1 billion by 2021. But the same report said the expansion would generate $1.7 billion in savings and new revenue during the same time period. The study estimate's Kentucky's total net savings from 2014 to 2021 to be $819 million.