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The Affordable Care Act in Kentucky: It's Working

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For months, critics of the Affordable Care Act boldly vowed to eradicate what they insisted was a failed health reform plan -- vows they repeated even as thousands, then tens of thousands and now hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians began accessing insurance and coverage via the health benefit exchange that we call "kynect."

Now comes Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell's amended election-year promise, delivered as he's fighting for his political life: To rid the state of the ACA even while keeping all the good that "kynect" does.

At best, of course, his promise represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the ironclad link between the ACA and "kynect." At worst, it's a blatant attempt to mislead Kentucky families for his political benefit.

While that is fun to ponder, the salient point is this: Even critics are acknowledging that the ACA is bringing health care to those who desperately need it. In short, it's working.

I see the ACA's positive impact first-hand in my home state, a place whose collective poor health has long been jeopardizing the lives and financial security of hard-working families who can't seem to get ahead.

Recently I was cornered by a Kentucky radio talk-show host with a large and rabid following. He didn't want to discuss politics or sports. Rather, he began telling me about a pre-existing health condition that for years had prevented him from obtaining health insurance. But thanks to "kynect," he now had coverage.

I wasn't surprised.

No matter where I go, I'm greeted by people who have used "kynect" to access good health, peace of mind and financial security.

  • A young, self-employed woman who, a month after getting coverage, was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy.
  • A widow with three children whose employer didn't offer insurance.
  • A woman with multiple health issues who had been going without medicine while caring for a disabled adult child and four grandchildren, all of whom had insurance but her.
  • And a diabetic who had been unable to afford the insurance his employer offered and thus couldn't treat or monitor his condition.

In fact, over 421,000 Kentuckians have signed up for health insurance through "kynect" -- about 75 percent of whom didn't previously have insurance and about 52 percent of whom were under age 35.

That's almost 1 in 10 Kentuckians.

Those numbers -- and the testimony of the people behind them -- contradict the mindless nattering of partisan-minded critics who need to leave their Washington D.C. echo chambers and talk to the people they represent.

Because if each of the over 421,000 people who signed up via "kynect" could grab 10 minutes of Sen. McConnell's time to explain what health care coverage means for their families, and if the Senator had the endurance to listen 24/7, it would take eight years to hear from each enrollee.

That's longer than the entire new Senate term he says he deserves.

Rather than continue trying to tear out the ACA "root and branch," as Sen. McConnell has advocated, he should understand why it's been embraced and why it's working.

Improved access to health care has had an immediate impact on the lives of these families. Statistics show that over 20,000 newly insured Kentuckians have sought care at hospitals since receiving coverage.

And over time, that care will help lift Kentucky off the bottom of nearly every health ranking.

In Kentucky, improved access to care -- especially preventive care and early diagnosis -- will help us move forward with "kyhealthnow," a wide-ranging initiative to attack historically stubborn problem areas like smoking, heart disease, obesity, cancer and dental care.

No wonder Sen. McConnell and other critics are suddenly leery of how voters might react to their desire to take health insurance away from 421,000 Kentuckians.

A study of the health insurance system in Massachusetts, which was a model for the Affordable Care Act, showed a significant decrease in the state's mortality rate in the four years after that law was implemented. In other words, it was saving lives.

It's already doing the same in Kentucky.

More than seven months ago, an op-ed column I authored for a national audience appeared under the headline "My state needs Obamacare. Now."

And in the months that followed, leaders in Washington and the media recognized Kentucky's successful Exchange as the model for the nation.

I was asked repeatedly for advice on the ACA, and I counseled patience: Take a deep breath. Settle down. Once the bugs were ironed out in the national exchange, people would quickly understand the good that the ACA does.

Today, that is exactly what is happening across the country.

Back on Oct. 1, 2013, at the beginning of this journey, I was a lone Kentucky voice telling Sen. McConnell and other critics to "get over it and get out of the way" so that I could help my people.

Now there are over 421,000 of us telling them that the future belongs to the productive and healthy workforce we're creating.

It's time to get on board or get left behind.