LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Democrat Andy Beshear offered a vigorous defense of Kentucky's Medicaid expansion, warning Monday that health care policy is at stake when voters choose between him and Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.
After touring an addiction treatment center, Beshear said increasing Medicaid rolls made rehabilitation programs available to more people in a state fighting severe drug-abuse problems.
The Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act was set into motion in Kentucky by Beshear's father, former Gov. Steve Beshear, but Bevin has been a frequent critic of its implementation. It has become a flash point in the state's combative governor's race to be decided Nov. 5.
The Democratic challenger continued lashing out at Bevin's proposed Medicaid waiver, which would require some "able-bodied" Medicaid recipients to get a job, go to school or volunteer to keep their benefits.
"The governor's Medicaid waiver is going to result in people losing coverage that would otherwise be getting services here or elsewhere," Andy Beshear told reporters at the Centerstone facility in downtown Louisville.
Medicaid is a joint federal and state health care program for poor and disabled people. Former President Barack Obama's signature health care law allowed states to expand the program to include adults with no children.
Beshear's father used an executive order to expand Medicaid coverage while he was governor. His order increased Kentucky's 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 Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," was implemented.
Bevin has said the Medicaid expansion was too expensive. He gave a stout defense of his proposed Medicaid waiver during an exchange with Beshear at a debate last week. The governor said his objective is to ensure that the medically frail and disabled "do not lose out" on coverage.
"I am a strong proponent of able-bodied, working-aged men and women who do not have dependents and have the capability of going to work to go to work in exchange for that which is provided for them by people who do go to work," Bevin said.
A federal judge blocked the work requirements and Bevin's administration is appealing.
Beshear, the state's attorney general, says Bevin's proposal would result in at least 95,000 people losing coverage. Beshear says most Medicaid recipients at risk of losing coverage are already working. He vows to rescind Bevin's proposal if he's elected, warning that scaling back Medicaid coverage would undermine rural hospitals.
"The future of Kentucky ... in on the line in this race because the future of health care is," Beshear said.
Beshear is an unabashed supporter of the Affordable Care Act, as is his father, who preceded Bevin in office.
Andy Beshear routinely refers to health care as a basic human right. At last week's debate, Bevin responded: "It's easy to say that health care is a right, but the reality is it's one that costs money and that someone then is forced to pay for."
Bevin accuses his opponent of failing to lay out how he'd pay for his plans, including a $2,000 across-the-board pay raise for public school teachers. The governor ridicules such proposals as "Andy Candy."
Beshear, meanwhile, frequently touts backing he has gotten from Republicans, including supporters of President Donald Trump. That theme got a boost Monday when he was endorsed by a Republican who ran against Bevin in the primary.
William Woods said his endorsement of Beshear was the "right thing to do." Woods said Kentucky needs a governor who respects everyone and supports public education.
Bevin has feuded with education groups that opposed his efforts to revamp public pension systems, but he staunchly defends his education record.
Woods finished far back in the May primary, receiving more than 14,000 votes.
Bevin campaign manager Davis Paine said the governor has support from "real" Kentucky leaders. It's not news, he said, that Beshear garnered support from someone who is "unknown."
The governor barely surpassed 50% of the vote in the spring primary. He made a caustic comment this summer about his closest primary rival, state Rep. Robert Goforth, telling a TV reporter that "it's a name so easily forgotten." Bevin's comment came after being told that Goforth had expressed his support for the GOP but did not specifically commit to voting for him. Goforth received nearly 40% of the GOP primary vote, carrying large sections of eastern and southeastern Kentucky.
Earlier in the campaign, Beshear was endorsed by Republican state Sen. Dan Seum. Bevin, meanwhile, has made a pitch for support from conservative Democrats by touting his opposition to abortion.