WASHINGTON -- Health care is emerging as a prime contrast between candidates in the Kentucky gubernatorial race this fall, where Republican incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin and Democratic state Attorney General Andy Beshear are locked in a heated battle.
A number of health policy issues have divided Kentuckians during Bevin's tenure, including his involvement in a lawsuit led by conservatives to overturn the 2010 health care law. Beshear is part of a coalition of Democratic attorneys general defending the law.
Bevin wants to implement rules requiring many Medicaid recipients to report work hours and tried to limit benefits, while Beshear opposed such requirements. On abortion, Bevin signed a law in April banning the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy, while Beshear supports abortion rights.
"The role of health -- whether it's women's health, reproductive health, the issue of Medicaid, affordable health care access, protecting preexisting conditions -- those are ways in which those two individuals are going to try to differentiate themselves and show that they are the lesser of two evils or the person who is looking out for the best interests and the values of the people of Kentucky," said Capri Cafaro, an adjunct professorial lecturer at the American University School of Public Affairs.
Earlier this month, the candidates engaged in their first Twitter fight of the 2019 general election, arguing over preexisting conditions. Beshear doubled down on protecting health care coverage of preexisting conditions, also the topic of his first ad during the Democratic primary. Bevin suggested he supports such coverage but also wants insurance to be affordable.
Bevin currently has one of the lowest approval ratings of any sitting governor, but he is also a key ally of President Donald Trump -- who carried the state with 62.5% of the vote in 2016.
"Gov. Matt Bevin has made it clear that providing quality health care is vital to the Bluegrass State and supports President Trump in his efforts to solve the disastrous ACA mess," Republican National Committee spokesperson Kevin Knoth told CQ Roll Call, referring to the health care law. "While radical Democrats across the country focus on extreme legislation from stripping away private health care to embracing late-term abortion, Gov. Matt Bevin remains dedicated to fighting for Kentuckians and their health care."
The stark difference between the candidates' positions on the health law could offer a preview of how that issue might be viewed by voters next year during the 2020 elections.
"The role that health care will play in the Kentucky gubernatorial elections is something that Democrats and Republicans are likely to look at as kind of a test case of what could potentially occur and what the implications are of, for example, the future of the Affordable Care Act overall," said Cafaro.
Before the 2010 law, insurance companies could charge people more or refuse coverage if an individual had a preexisting condition. Beshear has focused on this point, arguing against changes to the law.