Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., wait on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 23, 2013.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Kentucky GOP senators were wrong that state didn’t want Obamacare

Updated

The Republican senators from Kentucky, Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, declared last week that their constituents didn’t want any part of the Affordable Care Act.

Paul and McConnell deemed Obamacare so onerous that it was worth shutting down the entire government in order to try to stop it.

“Obamacare might sell in New York, but Kentuckians aren’t buying it,” they wrote in an op-ed.

They were wrong.

Kentuckians are signing up in droves–at a rate of more than 1,000 people per day–in a state where more than half a million people have been uninsured.

In fact, support nationwide for Obamacare soared this week while the public abandoned the Republican Party in droves. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out Thursday showed that a mere 24% of Americans have a favorable opinion of the Republican Party–a historic low.

Kentuckian Deborah Wright struggled for 30 years to take care of herself without insurance. She avoided the doctor because she couldn’t afford the cost.

“Usually if I had to go I’d have to borrow the money,” she told MSNBC. “But most of the time I didn’t go.”

Once, a kidney stone landed her in the hospital and she needed surgery. It took her two years to pay back a lender.

On Wednesday, a week after the government shutdown as Congress battled over Obamacare, the health care law made it possible for Wright to enroll in Medicaid.

This past week, at least 8,500 in Kentucky signed up for the approximately 60 healthcare plans available on the state exchange; 240 small businesses had enrolled to give their staff healthcare through Obamacare; another 7000 applications have been started, but not yet submitted.

“Our state’s U.S. senators are simply ignoring the facts when they continue to insist that ‘no one’ in Kentucky wants the Affordable Care Act,” Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear told MSNBC.

Kentucky has a poor bill of health overall: “The state ranks among the worst, if not the worst, in almost every major health category, including smoking, cancer deaths, preventable hospitalizations, premature death, heart disease and diabetes,” Beshear wrote in a recent New York Times editorial in support of Obamacare.

“I was really excited!” Wright said of the new insurance policy she has, free of charge, adding that her three kids—and nine grandchildren—are pleased that she’ll be able to get preventative care. “They was all tickled when I told them!”

The state’s healthcare exchange, Kynect, has “enrolled [Kentuckians] in new insurance plans at a rate of about 1,000 Kentuckians a day,” Beshear continued. “The rush of our families and small businesses to enroll in Kynect demonstrates how enthusiastic Kentuckians are about obtaining affordable health coverage.”

Kentucky’s not alone—28,000 signed up in California and 40,000 enrolled in New York.

“We’re very excited,” Kynect’s head Carrie Banahan said of Kentucky’s success. “We certainly didn’t expect all of this overwhelming interest the first week.”

Nearly 200,000 have browsed the site since Oct 1st.

“We had thought that maybe we might receive a couple of hundred applications during the month of October. We had no idea it would be thousands of applications,” Banahan said. “Within the first hour we had a thousand applications and we were down for six hours till we could obtain some additional servers.”

The team added more servers on Day 1 when the surge of traffic crashed the application system for roughly six hours. They increased their processing power by 50%, and the applicants kept coming.

“We believe it’s because of all the pent-up demand here in Kentucky,” Kynect spokeswoman Gwenda Bond told MSNBC, explaining that most people who have signed up were previously uninsured. “17% of our population [is uninsured.]”

Teresa Fleming, the chief financial officer of a group of primary care facilities, Mountain Comprehensive Health, said her lobbies had been flooded with people signing up for the plans. Through a federal grant, she’s now able to afford for three full-time Kynectors, or insurance agents trained to help enroll people in the health exchanges, in the lobby of her Whitesburg primary care facility.

“The response has shocked us,” Fleming said. “We think it’s due to a lot of word of mouth…I had a single dad who worked all his life in coal mines and just got laid off and didn’t know how he was going to get insurance. We signed him up on Medicaid. He has three kids.”

Wright said it took her about an hour to sign up for the plan, though Banahan said it’s designed to take, on average, 20 minutes.

Kynect also has a $11 million advertising campaign behind it for 2013 and 2014, funding a bus tour, health fairs, and a series of educational ads. The ad series is animated, so they can regularly add characters. They recently added a young woman figure, targeted at appealing to the “young invincible” demographic, Bond said. Once they start seeing the demographics of the sign-ups, they plan to add more characters to appeal to the demographics they see absent from sign-ups.

Kynect is noticeably absent of all mentions of Obamacare and some reporters have even found Kentuckians embracing Kynect while dismissing Obamacare. But Banahan and Bond said people just want to know how it affects them and if it can help them.

“Most of the people that I have seen voice an opinion were more open to the idea than buying health insurance,” Banahan said. “People are confused, but they really just want to know how it affects them.”

As for the fight over Obamacare that shut the federal government down? Kentucky’s brand new healthcare system isn’t hurting.

“It has not,” Banahan said. “We’re fully funded…That’s what counts here in Kentucky.”

Kentucky GOP senators were wrong that state didn't want Obamacare

Updated