About six form letters. That has been the full extent of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s known interaction with Kynect, Kentucky’s hugely successful Obamacare exchange, since it was created, according to state officials.
McConnell, who is facing an unexpectedly tough re-election race this year, turned heads recently when his campaign said that Kentucky would be able to keep its exchange even if Obamacare were repealed. It was a reflection of the changing national politics around the law, but it was also particular to Kentucky, one of the role models for successful implementation.
More than 440,000 Kentuckians enrolled in health coverage through Kynect: 82,700 in private coverage and 358,000 in Medicaid. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, who pushed for the state to run its own exchange, has become one of Obamacare’s most vocal advocates and is hugely popular with residents.
But McConnell and his staff have so far shown almost zero interest in that success. Audrey Haynes, Kentucky’s Secretary of Health and Family Services, told TPM in a phone interview last week that the form letters, which referred people who had had problems with the site to the state government, are the only known contact between Kentucky’s most powerful congressional representative and its new insurance marketplace.
“I would call it radio silence,” Haynes said when asked if McConnell’s office expressed any interest since Kynect’s lauded launch. “We had a lot of public meetings around the state, so possibly someone from Sen. McConnell’s office maybe attended one of those meetings, but all I can say is that to our knowledge, if they were there, they did not identify themselves. We’re not aware.”
“Of course, we are happy to demonstrate Kynect and how it works,” she added.
There is no normal for how often congressional offices are involved in major state-federal projects, Haynes said, but McConnell’s radio silence does contrast with other Kentucky legislators, including some Republicans. Rep. John Yarmuth (D) for example, has been in constant contact with Kynect, she said.
But even staffers from the office of Sen. Rand Paul (R) requested a briefing with Kynect, Haynes said, in part because they were interested in using it themselves. State senate Republican offices also asked for an overview of the exchange so they could address constituent questions.
“They at least have wanted to know how it works, enough to be able to answer questions,” she said. “We have tried to be as non-partisan as you could possibly be.”
McConnell’s office did not dispute Haynes’s account to TPM, but did not comment further.
That prior lack of interest made the McConnell campaign’s statements about Kynect puzzling for Haynes and company. Beshear dismissed the new rhetorical balancing act in an op-ed for the Huffington Post.
“At best, of course, his promise represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the ironclad link between the ACA and ‘kynect’,” he wrote. “At worst, it’s a blatant attempt to mislead Kentucky families for his political benefit.”
“I think, like many people, I was confused about what part he would keep and what part he would dispose of,” Haynes told TPM. Repealing Obamacare would eliminate the financial subsidies that helped some people pay for private coverage under the law, undo expanded Medicaid and remove the reforms to the insurance market that are intended to cover many of the previously uninsured.
“When you start taking that stuff away, that starts impacting people,” she said. “Our big question around here is if you don’t want to mess with these things, then what? Or which one of these things do you want to repeal? We just aren’t sure.”