Vice President Mike Pence promotes GOP health proposal during Jeffersontown stop as debate roils in D.C. and beyond

03/11/2017 07:35 PM

JEFFERSONTOWN — With Republicans in Congress advancing their first proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act, Vice President Mike Pence spent part of his Saturday selling the plan to more than 100 who gathered at Harshaw Trane.

Before taking the stage, he spoke with small business owners about the proposed American Health Care Act.

The GOP-led House of Representatives is fast-tracking the bill that would removes or alters key parts of the federal health law known as Obamacare through reconciliation, a budgetary process that lowers the threshold to pass in the Senate, in which Republicans hold 52 seats, from 60 votes to 51.

The American Health Care Act would eliminate tax penalties against people who don’t carry insurance and base subsidies on age rather than income while retaining pieces like requiring insurers cover pre-existing conditions and allow parents to keep their children on plans until they reach age 26, among other provisions.

Americans and small businesses “are struggling under Obamacare every day,” Pence said.

“The truth is Kentucky is a textbook example of Obamacare’s failures,” he said.

“Here in the Bluegrass state premiums skyrocketed by an average of 24 percent last year, with some plans spiking by 47 percent. Nearly half of the state has only one health insurer to choose from, and next year, Humana, headquartered right here in Louisville, is pulling out of Kentucky’s Obamacare exchange. Today one-third of the state is on Medicaid, and as your governor has said over and over again, it’s unsustainable.”

Gov. Matt Bevin, who introduced Pence and later made him a Kentucky colonel certificate and gave him a lapel pin symbolizing his administration’s red tape reduction initiative, also criticized the federal health law’s impact in Kentucky and beyond.

“The message that we want to share is change is coming,” he said. “Obamacare is a disaster. It needs to be repealed. It needs to be replaced. It needs to be something that is effective, and the important thing to understand above all else is this: It’s not about coverage. It’s not about providing coverage without being mindful of creating better health outcomes.”

While some speculated that U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s staunch opposition to what he’s called “Obamacare light” prompted Pence’s visit to the Bluegrass state, the vice president only offered pointed remarks toward one man: former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.

Beshear expanded the state’s Medicaid rolls and enacted the state-based exchange kynect through executive orders during his second term in office, and he offered his party’s response to President Donald Trump’s congressional address last month, primarily to defend the Affordable Care Act.

“Your former governor is wrong about Obamacare,” Pence said. “Obamacare has failed the people of Kentucky, it’s failed the people of America, and Obamacare must go.”

Beshear held a counter press conference in Louisville, where he asked people who have benefitted from the federal health law to share their perspectives.

Tim Duggan, of Elizabethtown, said he eventually couldn’t work as a master mechanic after he was diagnosed with an inoperative spinal condition that worsened over time.

Later he developed a breathing issue that went unresolved until he moved to Kentucky.

His problem? A collapsed lung he had lived with for two and a half years. Without income, he said he enrolled in Medicaid and started receiving treatment.

Since then, Duggan says he’s undergone a 10-hour surgery to reconstruct his lower spine in hopes of returning to the workforce.

“It’s been seven months out,” he said. “I’m doing good. I’m practically pain-free, and it looks like I’m going to be able to return to work, which before I never thought that was going to happen. And it’s a scary thought to think you’ll never be able to go back to work. It really is.”

Duggan says he has one more surgery on his back, and he’s concerned that is now jeopardized.

Beshear dismissed criticisms lobbed at Obamacare’s impact in Kentucky, saying Republican efforts to do away with the legislation would lead to millions losing health coverage.

The Brookings Institution predicts that the Congressional Budget Office, which hasn’t release its score of the American Health Care Act, will estimate up to 15 million will lose health coverage under the proposal.

“There are a half a million people today who have health care coverage who didn’t have it before. I call that a success,” Beshear said. “You know, our uncompensated care rate’s gone from 25 percent to 5 percent. I call that a success. I mean, our people are getting healthier. That’s a success.”

Beshear said some insurers “are sitting on the sidelines” because of uncertainty on the federal health law, creating turmoil in the insurance market. However, when Humana announced its decision to drop out of the Obamacare exchanges in 2018 last month, it cited “an unbalanced risk pool” as its primary reason for the exit, according to CNBC. The company had scaled back its offerings on exchanges in recent open enrollment periods.

Congressman John Yarmuth predicted that the American Health Care Act had little chance of passing Congress as written.

“I’m glad it doesn’t because this not only doesn’t fix anything, it makes it worse, and this is a reverse Robin Hood proposal,” said Yarmuth, D-Louisville. “It takes from the poorest people, gives to the richest people in the form of a $600 billion tax cut and doesn’t do anything to improve health care in this country.”

But Pence was more optimistic, and while he didn’t mention Paul by name, he seemed to appeal to the senator indirectly.

“This is going to be a battle in Washington, D.C., and for us to seize this opportunity to repeal and replace Obamacare once and for all, we need every Republican in Congress, and we’re counting on Kentucky,” Pence said. “President Trump and I know at the end of the day, after a good and vigorous debate, we know Kentucky will be there and we will repeal and replace Obamacare once and for all.”

Paul spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper said in a statement that the senator was happy to see Pence visit Kentucky to talk health reform and “looks forward to continuing to work with the administration and Congress for a real repeal of Obamacare and replace it with conservative market-based solutions that will bring down prices and give families more choices.”

U.S. Reps. Brett Guthrie, R-Bowling Green, and Andy Barr, R-Lexington, were among those in attendance for Pence’s speech Saturday.


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