LOUISVILLE — Republican U.S. Senate nominee Rand Paul claims in a new TV ad he does not support higher deductibles for Medicare and that his Democratic rival, Jack Conway, is "deliberately distorting" his views on the issue.
But Conway has released a video that shows Paul suggesting repeatedly there should be a $2,000 deductible for Medicare patients.
"A $2,000 Medicare deductible would solve a huge amount of problems," Paul says at one point during a September 2009 town hall meeting on health care. "The hard part is, how do you present this on national TV? What's going to happen to me in a statewide race if I tell people I think the Medicare deductible is going to be higher? Am I going to be hooted out of the room?
"I'm willing to take a risk because I think it's the right thing to do" because the other option is a publicly funded health care system like Canada's, he said.
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The Medicare issue is highlighting this week's war of campaign TV ads between Paul, a Bowling Green eye surgeon making his first bid for public office, and Conway, Kentucky's attorney general.
In an ad released Tuesday, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee pounced on Paul's comments about a $2,000 deductible for Medicare, the federal health care program primarily for people 65 and older.
The ad attempts to paint Paul as someone who is out of touch with Kentucky's seniors, noting voters could use $2,000 to attend a pro football game in Paul's hometown of Pittsburgh, to go to a fund-raiser in Texas where Paul grew up or to take a limousine ride to Webster Hall in New York City where Paul launched his Senate campaign.
"Rand Paul may get around, but he doesn't get Kentucky," says a narrator in the ad.
Conway hammered Paul on the Medicare issue during a discussion with about 10 retirees Tuesday at the Twig and Leaf restaurant on Louisville's Bardstown Road.
He reminded them the deductible for Medicare Part B, which pays for visits to the doctor, is $155. The deductible for Medicare Part A, which pays for hospital stays, is about $1,100. For Medicare Part D, which covers prescriptions, it is $310.
"I don't know what planet Rand Paul lives on, but he clearly doesn't understand the needs of Kentucky seniors," Conway said.
Meanwhile, Paul's new ad declares that "Rand Paul doesn't support higher Medicare deductibles for seniors" and accuses Conway of distorting Paul's views "to hide his support for Obamacare, which cuts Medicare by $500 billion."
Paul was referring to health care legislation backed by President Barack Obama and passed this year by Congress.
The law does restrain the growth of future Medicare spending, mostly payments to hospitals and other providers, but it doesn't cut any benefits in the traditional program. It probably will cause private insurers to reduce benefits in Medicare Advantage plans, known as Part C, which combines Part A and Part B and often provides additional benefits.
The Paul campaign also released an ad Tuesday in which an Obama impersonator applauds Conway's support for the president, who is not popular in polls of Kentucky voters.
Conway questioned why Paul had to use an impersonator in his ad.
He later said that it was fair to say he is "more a Clinton Democrat than an Obama Democrat" and that he had asked the former president to campaign for him but did not know whether Clinton could schedule a visit to Kentucky before the Nov. 2 election.
Two special interest groups outside of Kentucky also started airing new ads against Conway on Tuesday.
Crossroads GPS, which is associated with Karl Rove, a former adviser to former President George W. Bush, and has run previous ads critical of Conway, claims in a new ad that utility rates have gone up $175 million in Kentucky during Conway's term as attorney general and that he has received $263,500 in stock dividends from a utility during the last two years.
As attorney general, Conway must advocate on behalf of residential ratepayers when utility companies seek a rate increase from the state Public Service Commission. He said his office has helped save ratepayers more than $100 million.
Conway said the ad is "coming in from out-of-state interests to try to convince Kentuckians that I'm something that I'm not."
In August, Conway revealed on a mandatory financial disclosure form that he has earned $263,500 in stock distribution payments from Kinder Morgan Energy, a Texas-based pipeline company that transports natural gas and petroleum products. However, Kinder Morgan Energy has not been involved in any utility rate increase requests considered by Conway's office.
A group called The First Amendment Alliance is running an ad in Kentucky that claims Conway has failed to vigorously fight illegal drugs in the state. It says Conway was tardy in creating a drug task force and that the number of methamphetamine labs has increased in the state in recent years.
Louisville's Fox41 pulled the ad late Tuesday. Station officials were not immediately available for comment, but Conway's campaign released a letter from its lawyer that said the ad cites sources that did not back its claims.
Conway said he kept a campaign pledge to quickly appoint a drug-fighting task force but said it took time for him to publicize the group because his office was involved in a 11/2-year drug investigation with the FBI.
He also said his office's investigators do not have the resources to obtain the hazardous material training needed to conduct meth busts. That job is left to Kentucky State Police and other agencies, he said.
He did say his office is doing a better job at finding meth labs, "and that's why their number is going up."