FRANKFORT — Saying he favors a full repeal of "Obamacare" but citing a "technical question," U.S. Sen. Rand Paul on Friday gave cover to U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a week after McConnell said Kynect and the federal law are not connected.
Paul, talking to reporters after speaking at an event in Frankfort, said he wasn't sure whether Kynect, Kentucky's implementation of President Barack Obama's health care law, should be dismantled, saying there were far bigger questions that make a simple answer impossible.
"There's a lot of questions that are big questions that are beyond just the exchange and the Kynect and things like that," Paul said.
"It's ... how we're going to fund these things."
The junior senator's remarks came at the end of the week in which McConnell was taking fire from media and Democrats for saying that his call to repeal the health care law "root and branch" was not "connected" to whether he would want to dismantle Kynect.
"I think that's unconnected to my comments about the overall question," McConnell said when asked if he wanted to take apart the state exchange.
McConnell campaign aides noted that both Utah and Massachusetts had state-run exchanges before passage of the federal law, and Kentucky would be free to continue to run its program if it chose to do so if the president's law was repealed.
Democrats countered that McConnell was playing politics, attempting to have it both ways by calling for the repeal of the federal law but stopping short of destroying the warmly received state exchange.
Like McConnell last week, Paul expressed a desire to turn back the clock and address health care in a different way, but when asked if the state exchange, subsidized under the federal law, should be dismantled, Paul said, "You know I'm not sure," suggesting a great deal of complexity to how "we unravel or how we change things."
When asked a second time if he would want to dismantle Kynect, Paul said: "I would repeal all of Obamacare."
"And the technical question though is whether or not — and I think this is why it's not an easy answer — the technical question is what would that mean," Paul said. "Can a state still have an exchange? You know we live in a 50-state union so some states could have exchanges. They already did before Obamacare."
Paul noted that the state exchange has received positive reviews for its successful implementation, especially compared to the federal rollout, but he cautioned that the real costs of the program have yet to reveal themselves.
"I think the real question that we have in Kentucky is people seem to be very much complimenting our exchange because of the functionality of it, but there are still the unknown questions or what's going to happen with so many new people," Paul said. "I mean it's basically about a 50 percent increase in Medicaid in one year. That's a dramatic shot to a system. And my question is what will happen to local hospitals."
McConnell was assailed through the week by national media and Democrats like Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth for his comment.
Aside from a statement from her top campaign aide midweek, McConnell's Democratic opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, has been relatively quiet on the issue.
Paul, speaking shortly after Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned amid a scandal of the VA's health care system, used the example to question whether the federal government should be in the health care business.
"The people who think that the government can efficiently distribute medicine need to explain why the VA's been struggling for decade after decade and in a much smaller system," Paul said.
Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.