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Health care bill divides Ky. Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate

FRANKFORT — The landmark health care overhaul approved by the U.S. House on Sunday has become a dividing line in Kentucky's Democratic primary for a U.S. Senate seat.

Attorney General Jack Conway said Monday that he would vote for the "far from perfect" measure, but Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo took a more reserved approach.

Without "assurances" from President Barack Obama that other "critical reforms would be taken," Mongiardo said he would vote against the bill.

"Without those assurances, I would vote no because in and of itself this bill will not fundamentally address our health care challenges and could undermine the laudable goals of reform," Mongiardo, who is also an the ear, nose and throat specialist from Hazard, said in a statement. "If Jack Conway believes this is the magic solution to health care, it's proof that we need to send a doctor to the Senate, not just another politician."

Conway has scheduled a news conference Tuesday in Lexington to discuss his position on health care. In a statement, he called the legislation "a rare opportunity to stop insurance company abuses, lower costs for businesses and individuals, and provide affordable coverage for up to 654,000 Kentuckians who are uninsured."

He noted that the U.S. Senate will get a chance to vote on the issue this week. "It has taken decades to get this close, and I would vote to get this bill over the finish line," he said.

A change he would make in the bill, Conway said, is to give Medicare the power to buy prescription drugs in bulk. He said this could save taxpayers $200 billion.

"Unfortunately, Washington struck a deal with the big pharmaceutical companies that took this issue off the table," Conway said. "If I am elected senator, the first piece of legislation I introduce will repeal this special interest giveaway."

Conway said Mongiardo's previous suggestion to "throw it all out and start over" is basically the position on the health care bill taken by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Meanwhile, both of the top two Republican candidates in the May 18 primary election — Secretary of State Trey Grayson and Bowling Green eye surgeon Rand Paul — said they oppose the legislation.

Republicans have said the issue will be decisive in the coming elections, but Democratic political consultant Danny Briscoe of Louisville, who is not associated with any U.S. Senate campaign, said health care will not be as important as jobs in November.

"I truly think that once the people understand what the health care bill will accomplish — that more people will have insurance, that people can't lose their insurance because of pre-existing conditions and that it will be the wealthy who pay more — the issue will not be nearly as important in the fall election as creation of jobs," Briscoe said.

Still, Grayson said his campaign has launched an online petition to repeal the bill.

Grayson said he has signed pledges from the Club for Growth, a fiscally conservative political organization that advocates limited government, and U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., to support repeal of the bill if elected to the Senate.

"I support health care reform that does not cost taxpayers more than $2 trillion and that will not add to the deficit," Grayson said.

"The Democrat leadership and President Obama have used budget gimmicks to hide the true cost of this bill, and they've used procedural short cuts, strong-arm tactics and have cut backroom deals to win narrow passage of legislation that will affect one-sixth of our economy and every American family and small business," he said in a statement.

Paul, the son of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, said the House "showed exactly what is wrong with our government right now."

"They passed a bill that will cost trillions of dollars while illogically claiming it would save money," he said in a statement. "They passed a bill that will take freedom from more and more Americans. They passed a bill that will push Americans closer and closer to the destruction of our health care system and closer to socialized medicine."