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John Patrick Grace: Beshear touts Kentucky's health care rollout

Nov. 13, 2013 @ 10:02 AM

Kentucky, our neighbor to the west, has distinguished itself as a leader and a model for rolling out the Obama administration's signature initiative -- the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

How this happened was detailed recently in a taping of the Ed Schultz television show in Frankfurt, with Gov. Steve Beshear playing host and chief interview subject.

"Kentucky is the gold standard," Beshear told Schultz and the MSNBC cameras. California and New York State are also said to be doing especially well with their websites and processing of health insurance applications.

The Bluegrass state is one of just 14 states that have elected to do their own websites to help citizens browse their insurance choices and enroll. Those at issue in this process are roughly 5 percent of Americans who currently have insurance, those who buy their polices on what's known as "the private market." Americans already covered through employer-based insurance and those on Medicare, Medicaid or VA insurance are not required to purchase through the ACA.

Others who may browse and enroll are those Americans who have not had any insurance at all to date but who now are under an obligation to purchase a policy. Many of these consumers, because of their income levels, will qualify for government subsidies.

West Virginia under Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, unlike Kentucky, has chosen to partner with the federal government in rolling out the ACA.

Beshear said 400,000 have browsed his state's website to check insurance plans and some 38,000 have already enrolled for insurance through the ACA. And more than 400 Kentucky businesses were "in the process of enrolling," he said.

A key feature of the Kentucky website, according to Beshear, is the allowance for consumers to browse all their insurance options even before they register as someone eligible to purchase.

Beshear said that feature was "probably the biggest reason" for Kentucky's success. He also said that his state got to work on its program early and dedicated great energy and focus to getting it right.

Part of the show was taped in the Kentucky Capitol's "situation room," where employees were taking phone calls from residents all across the state and responding to callers' questions regarding the ACA.

Schultz commented that what the nation needed right now to make the ACA work was "49 Kentuckies." States relying on the federal website have experienced troubling glitches, delays and outright shutdowns of the browsing and enrolling process.

Some 640,000 Kentuckians had never had health insurance at all, Beshear said. Once this population does get proper insurance, the Kentucky governor added, "we can promote their wellness, help them to manage their diabetes or their heart condition, and keep them from having to rely on the emergency room."

And that, in a nutshell, is the name of the game.

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Another note on the ACA:

Twenty-six states have passed legislation providing that no abortions will be covered by government funds for those signing up for the ACA. In other words, consumers who want abortion coverage on those policies will have to sign up for that specifically and pay for it separately.

West Virginia is not among those 26 states. Citizens concerned about this issue are urged by West Virginians for Life and other pro-life groups to write to the governor and their statehouse representatives to ask that the legislature pass a bill that matches what the 26 states have done.

John Patrick Grace formerly covered healthcare and religion for The Greensboro (N.C.) News and Record. He currently is a book editor and publisher based in downtown Huntington and teaches the Life Writing Class.

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