My second term as Kentucky’s governor ended almost three years ago, yet strangers still thank me for saving their lives.
These Kentuckians don’t want to talk politics. They just want to tell me how access to health coverage gave their families hope and the opportunity for good health for the first time. Many of them give me a hug. And many of them wind up crying.
As Utah voters weigh their vote on Proposition 3, they need to understand what happened in Kentucky after I expanded Medicaid in 2013.
Many politicians – including Kentucky’s current governor – see this as a political game. But their vision and priorities are skewed.
This issue is about people.
With Medicaid expansion, Utah voters can change the trajectory of the lives of hundreds of thousands of their friends and neighbors in a positive way.
Critics talk about people who are uninsured as if they’re aliens from another planet and suggest that they’re “bad” or lazy people who don’t deserve health care.
In Kentucky, expanding Medicaid brought health coverage to over 400,000 working-class people, people like farmers, substitute teachers, nurses’ aides, construction workers, restaurant servers, and retail workers.
They lacked health insurance not because they didn’t have jobs but because their employers didn’t offer it, or it was too expensive to buy.
So these Kentuckians would get up every morning and go to work, hoping and praying that they didn’t get sick or hurt. They chose between food and medicine. They ignored checkups that would catch serious conditions early. They put off doctor’s appointments, hoping a lump or a pain turned out to be nothing. And they lived knowing that bankruptcy was just one bad diagnosis away.
Furthermore, their children went long periods without checkups that focused on immunizations, preventive care, and vision and hearing tests.
Expanded Medicaid changed all that. And according to dozens of studies and health-care advocacy groups, it has started to improve health outcomes in a meaningful way.
Expansion worked – and it continues to work, despite my successor’s attempts to burn the system down. He has worked furiously to strip health coverage from Kentuckians, devising a system that clearly demonstrates he has no idea why families struggle financially and what it’s like to be in that position.
And contrary to baseless claims, expanded Medicaid didn’t hurt Kentucky’s economy or its state budget.
Before I made the decision, I consulted health-care experts and accounting experts like PricewaterhouseCoopers, and I listened to the pleas of over 100 organizations. They all urged me forward.
And then, after Medicaid expansion’s first year, we hired the internationally recognized accounting firm Deloitte Consulting to study performance data. In the first year alone, Deloitte said, Medicaid expansion resulted in 12,000 new jobs in Kentucky and gave providers here $1.3 billion in new revenues. Deloitte also predicted that expansion would create a $300-million positive impact on the state General Fund in the next two-year budget cycle.
Bottom line: Whether you consider facts or anecdotal evidence, expanding Medicaid was both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.
Access to health care should not be a partisan issue. On Election Day, voters in Utah should put people over politics.
Vote “yes” on Proposition 3.
Steven L. Beshear was elected governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 2007 and served until December 2015.