- The Washington Times - Monday, August 18, 2014

Arkansas and Kentucky have been Southern pioneers in rolling out Obamacare and getting their residents covered this year, but Democratic Senate candidates in those states aren’t boasting about it in their campaign ads.

Democratic Sen. Mark L. Pryor voted for the Affordable Care Act, but he is focusing his ad buys in Arkansas on attacking Republican opponent Tom Cotton’s position on Medicare.

In Kentucky, meanwhile, Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes is painting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as out of touch with women and reluctant to bring jobs to coal country, but she’s avoiding the health law.

Instead, it’s Mr. McConnell who’s eager to mention Obamacare, making it a top message for his own ad buys as he tries to tie Ms. Grimes to the unpopular President Obama. Mr. McConnell sees an opening despite kynect, the state health exchange, showing measurable effects in trimming the ranks of the uninsured.

“Ask voters in Kentucky how they feel about kynect, and their attitudes are generally positive,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at The Cook Political Report. “Ask the same voters how they feel about Obamacare, and their attitudes are largely negative.”

The contrast is illustrative of the dissonance that surrounds the Affordable Care Act and its political ramifications ahead of November’s midterms, the first major election since the law’s main provisions took effect.

Even in places that wrote the few “success stories” of Obamacare, the law is a liability for Democrats clinging to the Senate majority. It is closely tied to an unpopular president, and Republican candidates in several states are quick to note that thousands of residents lost health plans last year because of new coverage requirements — a double-barreled assault that’s stifled Democratic hopes of promoting the reforms.

A Gallup analysis this month found Arkansas and Kentucky led the nation in trimming their ranks of uninsured, down 10.1 percent and 8.5 percent, respectively, since Obamacare’s coverage options kicked in at the start of the year.

Kentucky was the only Southern state to expand Medicaid and set up its own health care exchange, and the website, kynect, earned praise because, unlike the federal website, it actually worked, helping enrollment exceed enrollment projections during the law’s first round, according to an analysis by Avalere Health, a D.C.-based consultancy.

Arkansas, meanwhile, pioneered a way to leverage federal dollars to purchase private insurance for low-income residents rather than expanding traditional Medicaid, which is what the health law had originally envisioned. Other states have considered copying the arrangement.

On Friday, former President Bill Clinton highlighted each state’s success in implementing Obamacare in an address to the Southern Governors’ Association, The Associated Press reported.

Though he doesn’t include it in ads, Mr. Pryor’s campaign has criticized Mr. Cotton for wanting to repeal Obamacare — and ostensibly kick 183,000-and-counting Arkansas enrollees off their private option coverage.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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