- Associated Press - Friday, November 13, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear is warning his Republican successor against dismantling the state’s health insurance exchange, which has added thousands to the insurance rolls in a state plagued by poor health.

Beshear said the state would have to spend at least $23 million in taxpayer funds to scrap the exchange, known as “kynect,” and transition to a federal exchange. He said insurance providers and the state’s business community support kynect, which offers health insurance plans in accordance with the Affordable Care Act.

Beshear, in his first public comments since the Nov. 3 election, said Friday that kynect is “the most successful exchange in this nation.” About 100,000 people have used it to purchase private health insurance plans with the help of federal subsidies.

“It’s inconceivable to me, why, just to make a partisan political statement, Kentucky would want to go backward and become the first state to decommission a successful exchange,” Beshear said at a news conference Friday in the capitol.

Another 400,000 Kentuckians got free health insurance through the state’s Medicaid program after Beshear expanded it to make more people eligible. As a result, Kentucky’ uninsured rate dropped from 20 percent in 2013 to 9 percent this year, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a major independent survey.

But Republican Gov.-elect Matt Bevin has criticized kynect and the expansion as too expensive. Including the existing Medicaid program, taxpayers now pay for the health insurance of a quarter of the state’s population. Bevin campaigned on a promise to roll back the Medicaid expansion and to get rid of kynect, arguing people can buy health insurance from the federal government’s exchange. He said kynect “adds nothing of value.”

Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said in a statement Friday that Bevin’s administration would “move forward in addressing Kentucky’s health care needs in a deliberate and thoughtful fashion, consulting with Kentucky’s health care stakeholders, his cabinet appointees and the General Assembly.”

Republican state Senate President Pro Tem David Givens told a group of health care executives in Louisville on Friday that Medicaid needed “a fresh set of eyes.”

“I think with the fiscal challenges we face, we cannot afford (the Medicaid expansion) in the current fashion it has been funded and the current fashion it has been implemented,” Givens said.

Bevin, a tea party conservative, handily defeated Democrat Jack Conway, the state’s attorney general, after winning the Republican primary in May by 83 votes.

Beshear urged Bevin not to rush to a decision on the exchange’s future, and instead to study the financial and health data.

The two recently had a meeting, but Beshear declined to give specifics on what he and his successor talked about.

But he had strong words for Bevin’s plans to dismantle the exchange during the late morning news conference.

“Why do that to our people? Just to make a political statement of opposition to the president of the United States? That makes no sense,” Beshear said.

Kentucky was one of 13 states that chose to set up its own health insurance marketplace, and it won praise from President Obama and health care advocates.

The exchange’s $26.8 million annual budget comes from a 1 percent tax on all health insurance premiums, including those not sold on kynect. The federal exchange is paid for with a 3.5 percent tax on insurance premiums, but it is applied only to plans sold on the exchange.

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Associated Press writer Adam Beam contributed to this report.

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