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Kynect Enrollment Tops 413,000, Stage Set For Health Reform Debate


State officials have released the first official tally of Kynect sign-ups during the health insurance exchange’s first open enrollment period.

And Gov. Steve Beshear is touting the numbers as evidence that health reform is working.

Records show over 413,000 Kentuckians – that’s one in 10 – now has health coverage through the state’s benefits exchange. And officials say the number is likely to climb as remaining paper applications are processed. Of that total, close to 75 percent report having no coverage prior to signing up.

At a press conference Tuesday, self-employed Louisville resident Beth Moore said an unexpected appendectomy and hospital acquired pneumonia would have bankrupted her if not for her Kynect coverage.

"As of right now, I've received documentation for over $30,000 of medical claims, which if I had not had insurance would have been catastrophic for me," she told reporters. So far her out-of-pocket expenses have only totaled $150.

But the release of Kynect's inaugural enrollment numbers will also help set the stage for the larger election-year debate over the Affordable Care Act in Kentucky.

Republican lawmakers are keen to challenge Beshear's success story narrative.

In a recent op-ed, Senator Mitch McConnell called the Affordable Care Act an “outrageous law” that has dumped tens of thousands of Kentuckians out of their previous health care plans, forced them to pay higher premiums and deductibles, and saddled the state with an unwieldy Medicaid expansion. He points to the case of a Central Kentucky woman who contacted his office, saying, "I am on three medications. Two years ago the copay was $60 for each one. Now, my medications are costing me a little over $700 a month."

Gov. Beshear responded to McConnell Tuesday, telling reporters he will leave it to the senator to explain his plan for providing coverage for the state’s uninsured.  

Meanwhile, Republican strategists hope David Jolly's victory over Democrat Alex Sink in Florida’s 13th congressional district in March will turn out be a bellwether, foretelling electoral success for GOP candidates running against President Obama's signature law. McConnell told Newsmax earlier this month that "independent voters — the swing voters, those that go back and forth and decide every election — also don't like Obamacare. For them, it's going to be a big, if not the decisive, issue in how they cast their vote this fall."

Beshear, however, predicts a shift in perception of the health care law as more Kentuckians experience the reforms firsthand.

"Last November, there were tons of misinformation being put out by its critics and nobody really understood it or knew how it was going to affect them," Beshear says. He argues most Kentuckians are gradually realizing it doesn't affect them, and the remaining 20 percent "like what they're getting."

Now candidates running on or against the Affordable Care Act are armed with the initial numbers, which aren't likely to change dramatically before the elections. The next round of Kynect signups won't start up until November 15.

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