A new Republican attack ad slams Democrat Andy Beshear for backing the Affordable Care Act and opposing Gov. Matt Bevin's efforts to impose work requirements for some Medicaid recipients — the latest sign that health care looms large in Kentucky's race for governor.
The TV ad backed by the Republican Governors Association overlaps a Beshear campaign commercial in which the Democratic challenger touts his efforts to protect health coverage for pre-existing conditions as attorney general and promises to do the same if elected governor.
The GOP commercial lambasts Beshear for espousing "radical views" on health care.
Beshear's campaign fired back Friday, calling it a desperate smear while accusing Bevin of trying to "rip health care away" from tens of thousands of Kentuckians.
With Kentucky's election less than two months away, Bevin and Beshear are waging a bitter campaign being watched closely for potential trends that could carry over into the 2020 national election. The new RGA-backed commercial also shows the GOP's willingness to confront Beshear on health care — an issue the Democrat sees as one his family has championed.
The ACA, the health care law backed by former Democratic President Barack Obama, gave states the option of expanding Medicaid coverage to able-bodied adults. Beshear's father, former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, used an executive order to accomplish that. His order increased Medicaid rolls by more than 400,000 people, many getting coverage for the first time.
In a state plagued by high rates of cancer and other diseases, the uninsured rate dropped dramatically after the law, known as "Obamacare," was implemented.
The new GOP ad characterizes that law as a "Washington takeover" of health care that resulted in "too many families paying more but getting less."
"Andy Beshear supported the government takeover of health care," the ad says. "Now Beshear supports giving taxpayer-funded health care benefits to people who can work but choose not to."
Beshear calls health care a "basic human right" and says he'll push to insert ACA consumer protections into state law if he's elected governor. The health care law maintained job-based and private health coverage.
Beshear's campaign said Friday that health care is "on the ballot" in the governor's race and portrayed him as "the only candidate who can be trusted to do right by Kentucky families."
"No amount of desperate smears from Matt Bevin's allies will let this governor escape his failed record of trying to rip health care away from Kentuckians," Beshear campaign spokesman Sam Newton said in a statement.
Bevin has said the Medicaid expansion by Beshear's father was too expensive. Bevin's administration won permission from the Trump administration to require some Medicaid recipients to get a job, go to school or volunteer to keep their benefits. The state also planned to impose small monthly premiums from those Medicaid recipients to mimic private insurance plans.
A federal judge blocked the work requirements and Bevin's administration is appealing.
Bevin and Beshear already have clashed on the Medicaid issue. Beshear calls the governor's plan "callous" and says it would hurt health care in rural Kentucky.
Bevin defended the Medicaid proposal after a forum this summer, telling reporters: "I can't believe he (Beshear) would stand here quite seriously and say that it's inappropriate to ask able-bodied men and women, who have no children, to do something in exchange for free health care."
Bevin's administration has predicted the requirements would save the state hundreds of millions of dollars over several years. State officials estimated at least 95,000 people would lose coverage, either through not complying with the rules or by getting jobs and earning enough money to make them ineligible for the benefits.
The new GOP ad is the latest from outside groups trying to help sway Kentucky's election. The RGA started attacking Beshear right after the May primary.
The Democratic Governors Association countered with ads praising Beshear. A DGA-affiliated group recently signaled plans to pump nearly $4 million into advertising until Election Day.