The leading Democratic candidates who want to oust Republican Gov. Matt Bevin lashed out Friday evening at the incumbent's efforts to impose new Medicaid work requirements for many of those seeking to keep their health benefits.
The Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls took aim at Bevin's efforts to impose new rules for Kentucky's Medicaid program that would require many people to get a job, go to school or volunteer in order to keep their health benefits. Bevin suffered another setback this week when a federal judge in Washington, D.C., once again blocked the new rules for many low-income people in the state.
Three of Bevin's potential challengers praised the ruling at a Democratic fundraiser in Kentucky's largest city.
"I'm glad to see a federal judge stand up and say 'you're wrong,'" gubernatorial hopeful Rocky Adkins said in his speech at the event.
Another Democratic gubernatorial candidate, state Attorney General Andy Beshear, denounced Bevin's Medicaid rules as "callous" and said the federal judge "got it right."
"But this victory is temporary," Beshear said in an interview. "Ultimately, we have to beat him at the ballot box, and one of my first acts (if elected governor) is going to be to rescind that (Medicaid) waiver."
In his speech, Beshear said he would push to insert key elements of the federal Affordable Care Act's consumer protections into state law, including mandatory coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Adkins, the top-ranking Democrat in the GOP-led Kentucky House, said in an earlier interview that Bevin "has been wrong from day one on the expansion of Medicaid. He needs to quit trying to hurt ... people by taking them off the health care rolls and really be supportive of understanding that having a quality, accessible, affordable health care system in Kentucky is essential."
Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Adam Edelen said Bevin should "give up on his ideologically-driven political charade."
"If he can't be a governor that helps the people of Kentucky, particularly working people, have health insurance, he ought to just do nothing," Edelen said in an interview.
Bevin has vowed to end Medicaid benefits for more than 400,000 Kentuckians if the courts ultimately block his proposed rules. He says the state can't afford to keep paying its share for that many people.
Asked earlier this week if the state would appeal the judge's ruling, Bevin said: "Of course."
"Every one of the able-bodied people taking (Medicaid), is taking it right out of the hands, right out of the mouths and right out of the pockets of the people for whom Medicaid was designed," Bevin told The Associated Press in an interview on Wednesday.
"We are going to stay the course and no one rogue judge in Washington, D.C., is going to dictate what the people of Kentucky do to develop our workforce, to develop our people and to make Kentucky the best version of itself," the governor added.
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. In Kentucky, that allowed more than 400,000 people to get health benefits, many for the first time.
But that was a lot more people than state officials had expected, greatly increasing the state's costs.
In January 2018, the Trump administration gave Kentucky permission 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.
Edelen said Friday evening that health care looms as a dominant issue in the general election campaign this year. He said it shows a difference in the "value systems" of his and Bevin's campaigns, adding: "Health care will be where we fight that battle."
Adkins said the new Medicaid rules would hurt rural health care in the state.
"The governor ought to get his mind on how can we get more people on health care instead of less," he said.
The other Democrat running for governor in Kentucky's May 21 primary is frequent candidate Geoff Young.
In the GOP primary, Bevin faces challenges from state Rep. Robert Goforth, William Woods and Ike Lawrence.
Kentucky is one of three states that will elect governors in 2019, along with Louisiana and Mississippi.
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