- Associated Press - Thursday, March 13, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Democrats and Republicans in the Kentucky House sparred over President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul on Thursday in an hours-long budget debate that Republicans hope will help flip the House in November.

This is the first Kentucky budget since Democratic Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear expanded the state’s Medicaid program in 2012 and opened a health insurance marketplace under the federal Affordable Care Act. Thursday’s vote was the first time Kentucky lawmakers could go on record voting for it or against it. It was a tough vote for many Democrats who face contested elections in November. GOP officials hope those elections will turn over control of the House to the Republicans for the first time in nearly 100 years.

Republicans had 46 votes, but fell short of the 51 they needed to force debate on an amendment to the $20 billion biennial budget that would have shrunk the state’s Medicaid rolls and eliminated funding for Kentucky’s health insurance marketplace - where people who don’t have insurance through their job can shop for discounted plans from private employers.

Many Democrats skipped the vote.

Of the 29 Democrats who did not vote, 12 face Republican opposition in November. Democrats have an eight-seat majority in the House.

“The bathrooms were really busy when those votes were taken,” state Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, told his colleagues from the floor. “Either you were in the bathroom or the hallway or you’re sitting here afraid to vote to have a discussion. The people of Kentucky need to understand and they need to know about that.”

Democrats accused Republicans of bringing “Washington style politics” to Frankfort with an attempt to defeat the budget.

“It’s designed to stop the budget process and to shut the government down like they do in Washington,” House budget chairman Rick Rand, D-Bedford, said.

Even though the Republicans did not get their amendment, individual lawmakers opted to take the floor and speak about the health care issue anyway. Rep. Kim King, R-Harrodsburg, said she initially refused the public health plan offered to all state lawmakers because she already had private insurance. But last fall her private insurance company eliminated her plan, she said, because it did not comply with the new health care law. Now she’s on the public plan.

“I sincerely apologize to every taxpayer that I am trying to serve here that you are now having to pay for my health insurance,” she said.

State Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, called comments like that “crocodile tears.” And other Democrats rushed to defend the state’s version of the health care law that has been widely praised.

“Is it perfect? No. But we have expanded Medicaid in this state to people who have never had an opportunity to get to a physician or to get to a nurse practitioner or to get to their medications,” said state Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville.



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