- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - More than 370,000 people have signed up for health insurance through the state’s marketplace, a project that has come to define Democrat Steve Beshear’s term as governor.

“We are thrilled with the level of interest and enrollment that we’ve seen for our first open enrollment period,” Carrie Banahan, executive director of Kynect, the state’s health insurance marketplace, said in a news release.

But as the governor and his staff celebrated the numbers on Tuesday - one in every 12 Kentuckians now has health insurance through Kynect - the program’s future is less certain in the state legislature.

Monday, state lawmakers approved a two year, $20.3 billion state spending plan that forbids Beshear from using any state tax dollars to pay for Kentucky’s expanded Medicaid program or the private insurance marketplace.

“You give the governor credit for what he’s done. What the governor did was create a portal, a website. That’s all. The product is still Obamacare,” Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said.

Stivers said the Republican majority in the Senate still opposes the federal Affordable Care Act. He said it contributed to this year’s contentious state budget debate, which did not conclude until 5:30 Sunday morning after an all-night closed-door meeting. Of particular concern, Stivers said, was the roughly $100 million the state will have to find in two years to begin paying for the state’s share of the expanded Medicaid program.

House Democrats have tried to distance themselves from the federal Affordable Care Act while trying to embrace what the state has done under Beshear’s direction. They often say Kentucky does not have “Obamacare” but “Beshearcare,” pointing out that Kentucky is one of the few southern states to set up its own health care marketplace instead of having one run by the federal government.

If Beshear were to veto the portion of the state budget that bans him from using state money to implement the federal law, Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he did not know if the House would override it.

“As long as anything that we did doesn’t interfere with his implementation of what we affectionately refer to as Beshearcare, I think we’re all fine with it,” Stumbo said. “We don’t much care for Obamacare, that mess they made in Washington.”

The deadline to sign up for insurance was Monday. Kentucky officials said more than 21,000 people signed up in the final three days. More than half of those enrollments came Monday.

Of the 370,829 who signed up for health insurance, 293,802 enrolled for the state’s Medicaid program and 77,027 purchased discounted private insurance plans.

Those numbers are likely to grow. People who had problems signing up for coverage have until midnight April 11 to enroll. Final enrollment numbers will be available after April 15.

About 75 percent of the people signing up for health insurance in Kentucky did not have health insurance prior to signing up, according to Kerri Richardson, Beshear’s spokeswoman.

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