LOUISVILLE — Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell clashed Thursday over the federal Affordable Care Act in their speeches before a crowd of about 1,600 at the 50th annual Kentucky Farm Bureau Country Ham Breakfast at the state fair.
Beshear strongly defended his decision in May to expand the state's Medicaid rolls by more than 300,000 under the law pushed by President Barack Obama. Medicaid, a federal-state program, already provides medical care for some 800,000 Kentuckians.
"We are going to change the course of history," said Beshear, noting that Kentucky has some of the nation's worst rates for cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
The Democratic governor said he knows the system will work in Kentucky because a similar plan implemented in Massachusetts by then-Gov. Mitt Romney is working. It is time for "political posturings" on the issue to stop, said Beshear.
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McConnell, the leader of Senate Republicans, followed Beshear in the speaking order and said Obamacare is increasing the costs of health insurance premiums and destroying jobs.
The program should be pulled up "root and branch," said McConnell, who is in a high-profile re-election race.
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is trying to win the Democratic Party's nomination to challenge McConnell in next year's race, told reporters that some parts of the Affordable Care Act should be changed, but "let's not throw out the baby with the bath water."
She said she supports the act's provisions that prohibit insurance companies from cancelling insurance for people with pre-existing medical conditions and allow young adults to stay on their parents' health insurance plans until they turn 26 years old.
Louisville businessman Matt Bevin, who is running against McConnell in next May's Republican primary election, did not attend the breakfast.
His spokeswoman, Sarah Durand, said Bevin had another engagement. She also said that Bevin has signed a pledge to defund Obamacare even if it means a shutdown of the federal government, and that he has called on McConnell to sign the pledge.
McConnell is a co-sponsor of a bill to defund Obamacare, but he has said that a government shutdown would not stop the law.
The breakfast attracted several politicians, including possible candidates for governor in 2015.
The Democrats included Attorney General Jack Conway, Auditor Adam Edelen and former Auditor Crit Luallen. The Republicans on hand were Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, Louisville businessman Hal Heiner and Phil Moffett, who ran for governor in 2011.