- Associated Press - Monday, May 9, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Former Gov. Steve Beshear, who significantly expanded Kentucky’s Medicaid program through executive order, blasted Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and President Barack Obama’s administration on Monday for cutting “back room deals” as they negotiate a new program to replace the expansion.

Beshear used the federal Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature health reform law, to expand Kentucky’s Medicaid program. It caused Kentucky’s uninsured population to drop from more than 20 percent to just 7.5 percent, tied for the largest decrease in the country.

But more than 400,000 people signed up for the government funded health insurance, more than twice the amount state officials had expected. State officials say taxpayers will have to pay $257 million to cover the health insurance costs for the new enrollees.

Bevin, who took office in December, says the state cannot afford to have more than a quarter of its population on Medicaid. He said he will repeal the expanded program and replace it with something else. Bevin can repeal the expansion with an executive order. But to replace it, he needs permission from the federal government.

Bevin and his staff have met privately with federal officials several times since December. But Bevin has not released details of his plan, other than to say it will be “transformative” and modeled after a plan in Indiana.

On Monday, Beshear released a letter he wrote to Bevin and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. He wrote that they have been negotiating a plan in secret “that will impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians.”

“His proposal has been created in secret with no public meetings, no public review, and no public input of any kind, and its contents are unknown,” Beshear wrote. “We demand the Bevin and Obama administrations pull back the curtain, stop the back room deals, and allow for full disclosure and transparency.”

Federal law requires state officials allow the public 30 days to comment on any waiver application before it is submitted. The federal government then will give the public another 30 days to comment on it after they receive it, ensuring Bevin’s plan will have at least two months of public vetting.

Some health care advocates are not waiting to offer input. The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky will host a meeting Thursday for advocates to share their ideas. The meeting is not open to the public and the governor’s office is not participating. But foundation spokeswoman Bonnie Hackbarth said the group will issue a report publicly and send their recommendations to the governor.

In the letter, Beshear said Bevin should make his plan public before the foundation’s meeting. Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto declined to comment.

Last week, Bevin told reporters he has had “gone to the mat” with federal officials about the waiver application, but said he is optimistic they will reach an agreement.

“If it does not happen it will be because CMS does not want to see expanded Medicaid continue in Kentucky,” Bevin said, referring to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

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