In a sweltering warehouse at Bryant’s Rent-All, Mike Pence said he came to Lexington Wednesday afternoon to “turn up the heat” on the Senate Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.
“President Donald Trump and the leadership in the Congress will not rest, we will not relent, until we rescue the people of Kentucky and all across the country from Obamacare,” Pence told a hand-picked audience packed into the warehouse on Red Mile Road.
Before making his speech, Pence spent about an hour talking with small business owners about problems they’ve had with the federal health law pushed by former President Barack Obama.
Though Pence gave his assurances that Congress will pass health care reform, it seems U.S. Sen Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, hasn’t gotten the memo.
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Earlier Wednesday, Paul reasserted his opposition to the Senate health bill, saying an updated proposal that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to unveil Thursday will spend more money, tax more and do little to assuage conservative fears.
“I don’t see anything in here even remotely resembling repeal and I’ve said for a long time that the bill needs to look more like repeal in order to get my vote,” Paul said.
Pence did not seem fazed by Paul’s adamant refusal to support the bill.
“The president and I believe when the time comes Sen. Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul will do the right thing together and we will pass legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare and end the Obamacare nightmare once and for all,” Pence told the crowd of about 150.
Pence, who was accompanied Wednesday by Republican U.S. Reps. Andy Barr and Brett Guthrie, made a similar pitch the last time he came to Kentucky, when he spoke in March with small business owners in Louisville as he rallied support for the House of Representatives version of the health bill.
Pence’s argument hasn’t changed much since then. He said Obamacare has failed because insurance costs continue to rise while insurers pull out of the federally-run marketplace. He said the proposed legislation will help small business prosper by repealing several mandates and taxes included in the Affordable Care Act.
“It will end the Obamacare nightmare, it will begin to replace it with a health care system that’s built on individual responsibilities, free market principles and state based innovation,” Pence said.
Gov. Matt Bevin, who is good friends with Pence, said the bill will help give governors the ability and authority to decide how Medicaid should be run in their states.
“There is no perfect solution, there is no one size that will fit all for everyone, but give us that local control and the ability to make a change, that’s all we’re asking for,” Bevin said.
But that solution could be harmful for Kentucky, according to recent studies that have examined the potential impact of the bill.
For example, a study by the nonpartisan Urban Institute projected that 541,000 more non-elderly Kentuckians would be without insurance in 2022 under the new bill compared to the ACA.
The bill also could cost Kentuckians jobs. A study by the Commonwealth Fund and George Washington University found that Kentucky would lose 32,100 jobs in health care and other fields by 2026.
Former Gov. Steve Beshear, who embraced an expansion of Medicaid eligibility under the federal health law, said Pence should have spent his time in Kentucky visiting with those who will lose insurance under the Senate bill.
“Vice President Pence should have skipped the private meeting with his carefully chosen audience and instead faced the 231,000 Kentuckians who will lose health coverage if Sen. McConnell’s horrific plan to destroy the ACA becomes law,” Beshear said. “And he should be urging his party leaders to sit down with health experts, Democrats and others to work on health care.”
Pence, though, argued that the nation can’t afford to continue under Obamacare.
“Democrats in Congress would rather let Obamacare continue to implode than admit their mistake and help the Republican majority rescue the American people from this failed policy,” Pence said. “And I’m here to tell you, they won’t stop us.”
As dozens of protesters rallied against Pence outside the warehouse in 90 degree heat, Pence asked those inside to call their representatives and speak out in support of the bill.
“There is no more compelling voice in Washington, D.C., than the voice of the American people,” Pence said. “So let your voice be heard.”