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Kentucky AG Opposes Ruling Striking Down Health Care Law

Ryland Barton

Heading into a 2019 race for governor, Kentucky's Democratic Attorney General said Monday he will have a "more vocal" role in appealing a recent federal court ruling that struck down a federal law giving government-funded health coverage to more than 400,000 Kentuckians.

The Friday ruling from Texas U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor likely won't take effect while the case enters a lengthy appeals process. But the decision ensures health care, specifically Medicaid, will stay in focus during one of the nation's three governor's races next year.

"The ruling would devastate Kentucky, it would devastate our families and I will not let it stand," Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear told reporters Monday.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit challenging the health law filed by a group of 18 state attorneys general, led by Ken Paxton of Texas. Republican President Donald Trump's administration declined to defend the law in court, so a different group of 17 state attorneys general have been defending the law instead. That group includes Beshear, but has been led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

"What you are going to see is Kentucky as vocal, if not more vocal, than any other state that is in (the litigation)," Beshear said.

Becerra called Beshear "a critical partner in our multistate coalition, who knows firsthand how essential preserving the ACA is for states like Kentucky."

Former President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010. Beshear's father, former Gov. Steve Beshear, used an executive order to expand Kentucky's Medicaid program under the law. That order swelled Kentucky's Medicaid rolls by more than 400,000 people, giving Kentucky one of the largest gains in insurance coverage in the country. But the influx was far more than state officials had predicted, putting a strain on the state budget.

Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who has said he will seek a second term, was the first governor in the country to get permission from the federal government to require some Medicaid recipients to get a job, go to school or do volunteer work to keep their benefits. Those new rules are scheduled to take effect in April, and they include exceptions for people who are "medically frail," pregnant women, former foster care youth, survivors of domestic violence and primary caregivers of children and the elderly.

Bevin's has said his proposed changes to the system are designed to get people off Medicaid and onto private insurance plans. But critics worry the plan will cause people to lose coverage. Beshear has vowed to eliminate those rules "on day one" if he is elected.

Monday, Bevin told radio host Leland Conway he thinks the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional from the start, adding court rulings in recent years have made things more complicated. He dismissed Beshear's efforts to appeal the most recent court ruling, saying everything Beshear does is for political reasons.

Beshear scoffed at that, saying: "This is my job."

"This isn't about any election. This is about future health care coverage for 1.3 million Kentuckians," Beshear said, citing the total Kentucky Medicaid population. "That is bigger than any election."

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