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Governors tout Medicaid program expansion benefits

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Three governors who expanded Medicaid under the federal health care overhaul said Saturday there are economic and moral arguments for embracing a key part of the law, despite strong political opposition in their southern states.

The Democratic governors of Arkansas, Kentucky and Maryland touted the success their states have seen in cutting the number of uninsured residents during a panel discussion at the Southern Governors' Association annual meeting in downtown Little Rock.

"Having more of our people with health care coverage is the right thing to do," Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said. "You're not going to have a productive workforce unless they're also a healthy workforce."

Arkansas and Kentucky had the highest drop in the number of uninsured residents in a Gallup poll released earlier this month. Arkansas saw a drop of about 10 percentage points in its share of uninsured residents, from 22.5 percent in 2013, to 12.4 percent by the middle of this year. Kentucky experienced a drop of nearly 9 percentage points in its share of uninsured residents, from 20.4 percent in 2013, to 11.9 percent. Arkansas expanded Medicaid under a first-in-the-nation compromise plan approved last year that allows the state to use federal funds to purchase private insurance for newly eligible residents.

Dubbed the "private option," the program sharply divided Republicans in Arkansas.

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