A View From Inside The Governors' Meeting

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear was one of the state leaders attending the Governors Association meeting this weekend. Host David Greene talks with the Democrat about the hot topics at this year's gathering in Williamsburg, Va.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

One of the governors attending that meeting in Virginia is Steve Beshear, the Democratic governor of Kentucky. And he joins me on the line. Governor, thank you for taking time out of the meeting to catch up with us.

GOVERNOR STEVE BESHEAR: You're welcome, David.

GREENE: Well, Governor, I do want to ask you about one issue that has been dividing a lot of people in the country. And that is health care, that the Supreme Court - in the big decision that we've heard a lot about - gave states the option of not following part of President Obama's health care law. The part that calls for expanding Medicaid, the program for the poor. And I wonder, will Kentucky expand Medicaid or will it opt out?

BESHEAR: Well, first of all, Kentucky is moving ahead expeditiously to establish its health care exchange. You know, we have been quietly preparing and getting the grants from the federal government to help us plan and to get an exchange established, assuming that the court decision would go the way it went. And once it came out, I announced that Kentucky would be setting up its own exchange.

I would much rather Kentucky operate our health care exchange than default to the federal government. I think we know more about what Kentuckians need. And so, we're going to establish that exchange.

GREENE: And so, that was one big part of the law. Then there was a separate Medicaid question.

BESHEAR: Exactly, and we've got a lot of uninsured people in Kentucky. And I want them to have access to health care because the more Kentuckians that have access to health care the healthier these Kentuckians will be. And quite honestly, the less long term it will cost us in health care.

So we're looking very closely at the Medicaid expansion issue. My one concern about it is the cost. And I am taking our time and looking at our options. And talking with Secretary Sebelius in Washington to try to figure out, you know, is it going to be financially responsible for me to move ahead and expand our Medicaid program.

GREENE: I want to play a little bit of tape from Jeff Hoover, who's the House Republican leader in your state, who came out and said that it's just not possible for Kentucky to expand Medicaid at this point. This is what he had to say.

REPRESENTATIVE JEFF HOOVER: The financial impact of this Medicaid expansion would be devastating here in Kentucky. We will see further reductions in our funding levels for education and other things. Or we will have to face a significant tax increase, which obviously no one wants.

GREENE: In your view, is he exaggerating at all? Or will the decision be that difficult if you decide to expand Medicaid?

BESHEAR: Well, Representative Hoover and I have a good working relationship. And I'm sure he's sincere in his feeling there. I'm not at that point yet because we're still analyzing the potential financial results of taking this step. Obviously, from 2014 to 2016, it won't cost us anything to expand the program because the federal government will pick that up.

You know, the costs start coming back to the states after that time, and we eventually work it up to having to put up 10 percent of the match with 90 percent coming from the federal government. That's where I'm trying to analyze this; how many people it's going to be, how much money that's going to cost. Obviously, we're not going to devastate education in our state and those kinds of things by making a bad decision.

GREENE: Governor Beshear, you say that everyone should have the same goal. And I'm struck because the Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell - a very powerful Republican voice in Washington, D.C. - wants to repeal the entire Obama health care law. You two seem in such stark disagreement. Given that, how can you convince Kentuckians that Republicans and Democrats have the same goal?

BESHEAR: Well, I think most of us do. Quite honestly, you know, it's a presidential election year. I think there are a lot folks out on the stump making exaggerated comments. And I'm hopeful that commonsense will prevail after November and we get the presidential election over with.

GREENE: Are you glad governor that you don't have to run for re-election this year?

BESHEAR: Oh, I'm very glad I'm not on the ballot. I ran last year and that race went very well.

GREENE: Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky, get back to your meetings. Thanks so much for taking the time. We really appreciate it.

BESHEAR: Thanks, David.

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