Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat from a red state, has a simple message for members of Congress trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act: "Get over it. And get out of the way so I can help my people."
On day three of the government shutdown over the health care law, Beshear said he was personally offended by the partisan gamesmanship going on in Washington and delivered a speech in defense of Obamacare worthy of the president himself.
"[Lawmakers] are pouring time and money into defunding [the ACA]," he said in a speech and subsequent interview at National Journal's Countdown to Transformation event Thursday. "It is shameful they haven't invested the same time and money into trying to improve health of citizens. We need leaders who are focused on helping people, not gaining political power."
Kentucky is a unique example of a red state aggressively implementing Obama's signature health care law. Mitt Romney won more than 60 percent of the vote in the state in 2012, and it is considered firmly conservative. Yet Kentucky is the only Southern state implementing Medicaid expansion and operating its own state-based exchange under the Affordable Care Act.
Judging by the state's success thus far, Kentucky could be a key test case for how the law works when fully and enthusiastically implemented as intended.
The Kentucky Legislature is split, with a Republican Senate and Democratic House. Beshear issued an executive order setting up the state-based exchange, an implementation process different from those in other states. But Beshear feels strongly about the importance of the ACA, both for Kentuckians' health and quality of life and for business and economy of the state.
"Those who say it's a train wreck, they're on their own train," Beshear said. "Because so far, this thing is a huge success."
Currently more than 600,000 people in Kentucky—or almost one in six—are uninsured. The law will enable all of these individuals to receive coverage; 308,000 will be eligible for Medicaid with expansion, and the other 332,000 will be able to purchase coverage on the exchanges.
To determine whether Medicaid expansion was fiscally wise for Kentucky, Beshear contracted PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Urban Studies Institute at the University of Louisville to run the numbers.
"It took six months," Beshear said. "They came back and said, Governor, you cannot afford not to do this."
The groups found that Medicaid expansion would add $15.6 billion into the Kentucky economy over the next eight years, create almost 17,000 jobs, and protect hospitals from funding cuts.
Kentucky began the education process about the law months ago, with people helping to promote the law at college campuses and fairs.
Like the federal exchanges and other state exchanges, the Kentucky online marketplace experienced its share of glitches. But while others—the federal exchange in particular—hit major snags preventing people from enrolling, the Kentucky exchange has already had clear success.
According to Beshear, the Kentucky exchange site got its first contact at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, the day the exchanges opened. In the first 48 hours, more than 118,000 individuals visited the site, more than 109,000 applicants were prescreened, more than 13,000 people began the application process, and nearly 8,300 completed an application. In addition, 122 small businesses started their application process.
Beshear said these numbers speak for themselves.
"In Kentucky, we can't afford to waste another day or another life. You don't have to like the president or like me, it's not about the president or about me. It's about you," Beshear said, adding, "I don't care if it's a Republican idea or a Democratic idea, as long as it's a good idea."