The federal mandate is clear: Kentucky either creates its own online marketplace to help its citizens find and qualify for health insurance or it moves aside and the federal government takes over.
These online marketplaces, known as exchanges, are required by the federal Affordable Care Act, which was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. That's a fact. The only question is: who runs it? Us, or Washington, D.C.?
Equally clear is the best answer to that choice: Kentucky -- not the federal government -- should manage its program.
So last week I signed an executive order establishing what's called the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange.
Beginning in 2014, the exchange required by federal law will provide one-stop shopping for Kentuckians to enroll in qualified health care plans or through federal and state programs like Medicaid and KCHIP. It also will be the place where employers can enroll their workers in health plans, small businesses can qualify for tax credits and individuals can qualify for tax credits and subsidies to help pay their premiums.
My executive order also established an 11-member Exchange Advisory Board whose members will be announced by mid-August. And it sets in motion six upcoming forums around the state beginning July 25 with insurers, providers, agents, consumers, employers and advocates to educate the public on insurance reforms and to solicit input on the development of a Kentucky exchange.
My decision followed the recommendations of multiple stakeholders -- including business groups, hospitals, insurers and health care advocates groups with as varied points of view as the Kentucky Hospital Association, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and Kentucky Voices for Health.
They have argued loudly and clearly that they don't want the federal government running this program for Kentucky.
Yet when it came time to find office space to house the program, a legislative committee -- voting strictly along partisan lines -- tried to block the creation of the exchange by rejecting that proposal. I overrode their action and authorized the Secretary of Finance to enter into the lease.
When are we going to get partisan politics out of policy discussions?
The Affordable Care Act is neither perfect nor the end-all solution to health care reform. But it's a start, and it's the law. Regardless of your political affiliation, Kentucky and all other states are under federal order to create benefits exchanges for access to coverage for all citizens.
And with Kentucky's high rates of cancer and other chronic diseases, this exchange will help our citizens find affordable, quality health care that can help them get on a path to wellness.
We can either hide and let the federal government run this program, or we can step up.
I am determined that Kentucky will not fall behind in the implementation of our state health care exchange.
People who care about Kentuckians know they need help. And that's what we're going to give them.