LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The debut of a statewide online health insurance marketplace, which earned a thumbs-up from President Barack Obama for smoothly enrolling tens of thousands of people, has been voted Kentucky's top news story of 2013.
Unlike the technical glitches that marred the federal health benefit exchange, the rollout in Kentucky went much better.
Kentucky built its own exchange, the result of an executive order by Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat. Expanding medical coverage, he said, would benefit a state with about 640,000 uninsured residents. The state also ranks among the nation's unhealthiest, with high rates of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
"This is going to change the history of Kentucky when it comes to the health status of our citizens," Beshear said. "It won't happen next week or next year, but over the next generation you're going to see a huge, positive change in the health status of Kentuckians."
His decision drew the scorn of conservatives and spurred a lawsuit.
The state received more than $250 million from the federal government to set up its exchange. The online marketplace for people to shop for insurance coverage was the centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act.
Enrollment began Oct. 1, and by Friday, more than 96,000 Kentuckians had signed up for new health coverage, including slightly more than 72,000 in Medicaid and the rest in private insurance, according to the governor's office. Coverage is set to begin Jan. 1.
Beshear's enthusiasm for the embattled health care law, and the performance of Kentucky's exchange, drew national attention. The governor received a personal thank you from Obama.
Kentucky's U.S. senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, are among its leading critics.
McConnell, the Senate's top-ranking Republican, branded the law a "national calamity."
"I continue to hear daily from constituents who are upset and angry that 'Obamacare' means higher premiums and deductibles and less access to the doctors and hospitals they trust," McConnell said.
The health care developments were selected as the year's biggest story in Kentucky in voting by subscribers and staff for The Associated Press.
Kentucky's No. 2 story was the downfall of Richie Farmer, a once-beloved University of Kentucky basketball standout whose political career crashed in scandal. Farmer pleaded guilty in a government corruption case that could send him to prison for two years. He's scheduled to be sentenced in January.