Hope for a less toxic health policy

Yesterday, Lexington-Herald-Leader Frankfort Bureau Chief Jack Brammer turned 65. On Saturday, Gov. Matt Bevin will turn 49. Happy birthday, fellow Capricorns. I have more in common with Jack than with Matt. But in the spirit of Bevin’s inaugural goodwill challenge “of befriending someone who’s in a different political party than yourself and … find something you agree on,” I want to highlight the single issue that united us during the campaign: medical marijuana.

During the debate at Eastern Kentucky University, Bevin said, “I do think there’s unequivocal medical evidence of the fact that there are benefits for … those with cancer, those with epilepsy … I think it should be prescribed like any other prescription drug. I think it should be regulated in the very same fashion … I would, in fact, sign such legislation into law.”

Bevin’s opponent, Democrat Jack Conway: “If we passed a law for medical marijuana, it would be easier to get on our streets.”

Bevin replied, “I’m not gonna ask for the young people in this room to raise your hands, but is it not already easy for you to find this on the streets? Come on. The only people who can’t get it are the people who abide by the law. The only people who can’t get it are these families who want some medical relief for members of their family. The idea that we’re saving this from getting this out on the street, Jack, is a tremendous misunderstanding …”

To be fair, Conway supported the pharmaceutical use of cannabidoil, which isn’t necessarily medical marijuana as it can be derived from hemp and, in any derivative, can’t be used to get high.

Nevertheless, the exchange was among Bevin’s superior campaign moments. Let’s hope State Sen. Perry Clark, Democrat of Louisville, who champions medical uses of marijuana, will prevail in his quest to enlighten the general assembly, which commenced the first week of its regular (60-day) session yesterday.

Another excerpt from the EKU debate epitomized the worst of Bevin. His relentless attack on former Gov. Steve Beshear’s expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (a no-brainer for a state as ill as ours) made it impossible for me to support him. He blithely dismissed as “baloney” an independent, expert, state-funded analysis by Deloitte Consulting. The study found that the expansion would fund itself, via new jobs and tax revenue, through 2020. “For you to continue to quote it,” Bevin told Conway, “is again indicative of the fact that you truly don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Such broadsides earned candidate Bevin poisonous press. On Sept. 14, thinkprogress.org headlined a lengthy and credible story, “Kentucky is Obamacare’s undeniable success story. This man (Bevin) is trying to burn it down.” On Dec. 11, a New York Times story began, “More than seven in 10 residents of Kentucky want their new governor, Matt Bevin, to keep the state’s expanded Medicaid program as it is, according to a new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation.”

The article noted that Bevin had “backpedaled” — from threatening to reverse the expansion, which he deems unaffordable, to “requiring Medicaid enrollees to have ‘skin in the game,’ such as by charging them monthly premiums.”

The problem is that many enrollees’ skin is stretched to the breaking point. “This is a very poor state and people here can’t even afford to buy food,” Daryl Tackett, a 57-year-old Harrodsburg Republican, told the Times. “I don’t want him to take Medicaid away because there’s too many people that needs it.” At a press conference a week ago, “The Tea Party candidate laid out his plans to ‘transform’ —  rather than entirely dismantle — the Obamacare Medicaid expansion,” reported talkingpointsmemo.com.

In so doing, “Bevin will join a long list of GOP governors who have railed against the program but eventually come around to supporting it. The pattern is well-established and often includes negotiating with the federal government a special carve-out for a state-specific version of the program, a way to save political face by seeming not to have caved,” wrote TPM.

Bevin’s stated aim is “to make people as un-dependent as possible,” but the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services forbids major modifications to the program. Wrote crooksandliars.com, “They’ll likely allow some kind of co-payment for coverage similar to other Republican states, but overall, that expansion will stay firmly in place, as it should.”

Lucky for Bevin and for us. The governor was prepared to prove how unaffordable a sicker Kentucky is.