Pence Promises Kentucky Obamacare ‘Nightmare’ About to End

  • Proposed health care replacement has met widespread opposition
  • State’s lawmakers among critics of House Republican measure

Mike Pence said the “nightmare” of Obamacare will soon end as he visited Kentucky in hopes of drumming up some good publicity for a contentious health bill that’s united many conservatives and liberals -- as well as doctors, seniors and hospitals -- in opposition.  

“Obamacare has failed the people of Kentucky it has failed the people of America and Obamacare must go,” the vice president told an invited audience of about 100 mostly small business owners and Republican backers in Louisville. Pence also spoke to a smaller group of business executives, including John Schnatter, chief executive officer of locally-headquartered pizza company Papa John’s International Inc.

The vice president spent just eight minutes on health care in his 22-minute remarks, which included a recitation of the Trump administration’s greatest hits to date. Pence laid out what he termed Obamacare’s faults rather than acknowledging or attempting to refute criticism about the Republican plan.

On Sunday, top officials from the Trump administration fanned out across political talk shows to sell the merits of the American Health Care Act, the House bill intended to replace former President Barack Obama’s signature health law.

‘Save My Care’

Pence’s event was open to the press but not the public. At least one local group, Indivisible KY, protested outside the meeting. Demonstrators shouted “Save My Care” on the road to the Harshaw Trane parts and distribution center in Louisville, holding up signs that included “Obamacare saved my life” and “health care is a human right.”

Kentucky is one of the states where Obamacare has had the biggest impact yet faced some of the harshest criticism. The percentage of those uninsured in the state fell from 20 percent to about 8 percent, with more than 500,000 people getting coverage through the Medicaid expansion or subsidized insurance plans. 

Kentucky, under Democratic Governor Steven Beshear, operated a state-run insurance exchange, Kynect, for the first three years of the Affordable Care Act; Beshear was ineligible for run again in 2015 due to term limits. Bevin, running on an anti-Obamacare platform, defeated Democrat Jack Conway; once elected he ended Kynect and moved the state’s enrollees to the federal exchange.

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Republicans say patients have fewer choices in who they can buy insurance from and what doctors they can see. One of Kentucky’s biggest insurance providers, Humana Inc. -- headquartered in Louisville -- plans to pull out of the Obamacare exchanges next year.

Kentucky is also home to Senator Rand Paul, an outspoken critic of Obamacare as well as the House Republican replacement bill, which he says doesn’t go far enough to undo the current law. Representative Thomas Massie, another Kentucky Republican, called the bill “a stinking pile of garbage.”

The bill introduced this week, the American Health Care Act, would repeal Obamacare’s requirement that individuals must have, and employers above a certain size must offer, health coverage. It would also eliminate several taxes on the wealthy, insurers and drugmakers used to fund Obamacare. The proposal includes a refundable, age-based tax credit to help people buy insurance and a rollback of an expansion of Medicaid over a period of years.

President Donald Trump holds a rally in Nashville, Tennessee, on Wednesday to try to motivate his base to get behind the legislation. But some of Trump’s core supporters risk losing their coverage, or facing higher costs, under the Republican plan.

‘Making Great Progress’

Trump told his 26 million Twitter followers Saturday that “we are making great progress with healthcare. ObamaCare is imploding and will only get worse. Republicans coming together to get job done!”

Groups that lobby for doctors, hospitals and insurance companies say the AHCA wouldn’t adequately fund Medicaid, the government program for the poor, and that the tax credits wouldn’t be large enough.

“We cannot support the AHCA as drafted because of the expected decline in health insurance coverage and the potential harm it would cause to vulnerable patient populations,” the American Medical Association said in a letter to the House Ways and Means and House Energy and Commerce committees this week.

Conservatives groups think the bill doesn’t go far enough at removing mandates and subsidies. The Tea Party Patriots would like to see the elimination of a requirement that insurers cover people with pre-existing medical conditions and tax credits to help people pay for coverage. Other conservative groups want the bill to go further at pulling back the Medicaid expansion to pre-Obamacare levels.

In Washington, Trump and Pence have been meeting with conservative groups and opponents of the bill, like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, to offer reassurances that they are still open to negotiations. At the same time, though, Trump and Pence have publicly supported the law, and Republican leaders in the House have touted the president’s support.

(A previous version of this story was corrected to show Beshear left office due to term limits.)

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