Medicaid becomes latest sparring issue in congressional race

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Andy Barr said today Kentucky's efforts to put work requirements on many Medicaid recipients would be in their best interests, leading them toward self-sufficiency and away from reliance on the government health insurance program.

That stance could elevate health care as a flashpoint in a congressional race that Democrats think gives them their best chance to gain a seat this year in a state that has trended heavily toward Republicans.

It puts the GOP incumbent at odds with his opponent in Kentucky's 6th District, Democrat Amy McGrath, who says she values encouraging people to work but cautions that a work requirement shouldn't be used punitively.

Barr said in a phone interview he supports giving state leaders the flexibility to shape Medicaid programs to meet their states' health needs and budgets.

Fallout from Kentucky's efforts to revamp its Medicaid program intensified in recent days when Republican Gov. Matt Bevin's administration said dental and vision coverage will be cut for as many as 460,000 Kentuckians after his overhaul plan – which included the work requirement – was rejected in court.

Asked about Bevin's action, Barr said: "I have no reaction. It's a state decision and I'm a federal lawmaker. My job, the way I look at it, is to support a Medicaid program that allows every state ... to tailor their Medicaid programs according to the state-based policymakers' decisions."

Barr's muted response contrasted sharply with McGrath's biting criticism.

"Gov. Bevin's obvious goal is to take health care away from Kentuckians," she said. "He tried to do it by instituting his unconstitutional work requirements. When that didn't work, he's just going through with taking health care away any way he can."

Medicaid is the joint state and federal health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

Kentucky was on the verge of starting to implement its Medicaid changes until a federal judge blocked the plan last week.

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