By JOE BIESK
Associated Press Writer
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a medical doctor who's made health care a hallmark of his first term, would push for extending a health insurance program for small businesses to include thousands of Kentucky children if he wins re-election, Fletcher said in a recent interview.
Fletcher and Democratic challenger Steve Beshear have clashed during the general election campaign over topics ranging from the Ten Commandments and abortion to whether Kentucky should legalize casino gambling.
But, in an interview last week, Fletcher listed health insurance issues among his top priorities for the General Assembly to pass should he win a second term in the Nov. 6 election. Beshear has also touted a health care plan during the campaign that includes health care coverage "for all children" including more than 81,000 who are estimated to be currently uninsured.
Fletcher said he proposes that Kentucky's Medicaid program pay into private health insurance plans, which small businesses throughout the state offer, to cover potentially thousands of employees and their families. Currently, the state subsidizes small business employees, but not dependents.
"We think we can cover hundreds, if not thousands, of kids that are in that situation," Fletcher said. "And, we'll cover not only the kids, but we'll cover the families in a private health care plan - which most people would prefer over Medicaid."
There are more than 550,000 uninsured people in Kentucky, a number that includes more than 80,000 children. Currently, Kentucky's Medicaid system has about 715,000 participants and runs on a yearly budget of about $4.8 million, according to the state's Health and Family Services Cabinet.
Fletcher said his plan to cover the children of small business employees would help people obtain better insurance and use less state funds. The plan would reduce the burden on Medicaid for those children by having the state, employer and employee all contribute toward the premium, Fletcher said.
Another program Fletcher supports would allow private companies to buy into the state's Medicaid program to help cover their employees with physical disabilities. Both employees and employers would pay into the state's Medicaid program to cover medical expenses, Fletcher said.
"In different situations you've got to have a different solution. You can't treat a disabled individual like you do somebody that doesn't have a disability because they need so much more assistance to be independent," Fletcher said. "And a private insurance plan will not offer that - it can't offer that. But we can, that's the purpose of Medicaid."
Meanwhile, Beshear proposes allowing low-income families to buy into the Kentucky Children's Health Insurance Program, with income-based premiums. The plan would also allow any family to buy into the program, but at full price, Beshear said.
"Every parent knows that when a child is sick, you want nothing more than to get them the medical attention they need right way," Beshear said. "As governor, I will take the first step toward providing high-quality, affordable health care coverage to every Kentuckian by starting with every child in this state."
Beshear's plan would also help small businesses cover the cost of their employees' health insurance. It offers a sliding scale premium for low-income families and small businesses, Beshear said.
"Providing coverage to every Kentuckian is not only the right thing to do morally, it is also necessary to make our work force the most productive and our businesses the most competitive in the country," Beshear said.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)