Kentucky Democratic Gov. Steven Beshear on Friday unabashedly lauded his state's success in rolling out Obamacare, in the face of state voters who have never warmed to President Obama and a pair of Republican senators who bash the new health law at every turn.
Mr. Beshear leads the only southern state that decided to expand Medicaid and set up its own health insurance "exchange" under the Affordable Care Act. Speaking to a receptive audience near Capitol Hill, he said bitter partisanship in Washington had to take a back seat to health coverage for his residents.
"I don't have time for all the political craziness that goes on in this town," he told the Families USA Health Action 2014 conference.
Mr. Beshear said Kentucky can be a progressive state despite its "red-state persona."
Voters opposed President Obama by about 2-to-1 in the 2012 election and its U.S. senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, have espoused "vocal and vehement" opposition to Obamacare, the governor noted.
He said his embrace of the law was the "morally right thing to do" and offered a holistic solution for Kentuckians, who ranked all too high in many health-risk categories.
One out of six state residents lacked health insurance before the law, but some 175,000 people have signed up for Medicaid or a private insurance since Oct. 1, according to the governor.
"These aren't some group of aliens from a distant planet," he said. "These are our friends and our neighbors."
Supporters of health reform have held Kentucky up as a paragon of Obamacare's promise and a bright contrast to early failures by the Obama administration and select states during the law's first months of implementation.
The state's Obamacare website, kynect, did not suffer from the glitches that spoiled the debut of HealthCare.gov, the federal portal that serves 36 states.
Federal officials gathered tech experts to turn HealthCare.gov around by December, leading to surge in enrollment. About 3 million people have enrolled in private plans through the federal and state-run marketplaces since Oct. 1, the Department of Health and Human Services said Friday.
State-run websites in Oregon and Maryland, among others, continue to suffer from technical problems while places like California, Washington state and Kentucky have had more success.
In an interview, Mr. Beshear said Kentucky took advantage of every federal grant for planning, selected vendors for its website early and surrounded the contractors with employees in the state's Medicaid office and other stakeholders.
He said the website was tested over the summer — well ahead of its October launch — with federal oversight and approval.
"We hit the ground running and never looked back," he said.
He said the kynect website rejected online bells and whistles and is "direct and fairly simple to understand." It also allows people to check out their plan options and potential subsidies before registering for enrollment.
That, he said "is just the opposite of what the federal exchange did," he said. "I think because the federal exchange did that, it created a bottleneck right up front. And we avoided that bottleneck by allowing anybody to browse before they opened up an account."
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