Pence makes case for health care overhaul in Kentucky

Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Harshaw Trane Parts and Distribution Center, Saturday, March 11, 2017, in Louisville, Ky. Pence said that the so-called Obamacare law had failed the nation and the Trump administration would need the backing of rank-and-file Republicans to pass their health care overhaul. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence defended the House GOP health care proposal on Saturday, venturing to Kentucky to counter opposition from the state’s Republican governor and its junior GOP senator.

Pence acknowledged that not all of the state’s political leaders back the House leadership’s plan, but told small business leaders that President Donald Trump would lean on House Republicans — including two Kentucky lawmakers in attendance, Reps. Andy Barr and Brett Guthrie — to vote to replace former President Barack Obama’s law.

“There’s going to be a battle in Washington, D.C.,” Pence said at an energy company where the business leaders had gathered. The vice president said the health law had “failed the people of Kentucky, it’s failed the people of America and Obamacare must go.”

In a sign of the pitched fight over the future of the nation’s health care system, Pence’s motorcade passed a long line of demonstrators who chanted, “Save our care.” His trip was part of an effort to reassure conservatives who have raised objections to the House GOP health care plan.

Around the time that Pence landed in Louisville, Trump tweeted: “We are making great progress with healthcare. ObamaCare is imploding and will only get worse. Republicans coming together to get job done!”

The former Indiana governor has been the chief salesman for Trump’s push to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The House is expected to vote on the bill in less than two weeks, but faces fierce resistance from critics, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who has called the initial draft “Obamacare Lite.”

Several influential conservative groups, such as Heritage Action, FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth, have come out against the plan.

Pence suggested this week that the Trump administration was open to negotiating changes to the bill.

Conservatives have urged the White House to halt the extra money Obama’s law gives states to expand the federal-state Medicaid program for 70 million low-income people. The GOP bill would end that additional funding in 2020 except for those already in the program, but conservatives want to accelerate that to 2018 to save money.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, has warned that the state cannot afford to pay for its growing Medicaid program, which has cost the state millions more than initially expected and now covers more than 25 percent of the state’s population. He has dismantled Kentucky’s state-based exchange but indicated he would not favor eliminating the federal health insurance exchange.

Bevin told reporters Friday that, like Paul, he was not impressed with the initial proposal.

But on Saturday he said that while there were different views on how to change the law, “ultimately these differences of opinion will be rectified.” He said all could agree that “change has to come — the system is broken.”

Pence went on a bit of a charm offensive with Bevin, who greeted him at the airport and was given an impromptu tour of Air Force Two along with his children and their friend. After a motorcade ride, Pence sat beside Bevin at a meeting with business leaders that included pizza magnate John Schnatter of Papa John’s. “I was for Matt Bevin before it was cool,” Pence told the group.

Paul has been among the Senate’s foremost critics of the bill. Even before the legislation was released, he placed a copy machine outside of the room where House Republicans were drafting the bill and asked for a copy, all to draw attention to the secrecy of the plan.

“Now I know that not every politician in Kentucky supports our plan to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Pence said. “I know your former governor, Steve Beshear, has been defending Obamacare all over America. And he might even have something to say about my visit here today, and I welcome the debate. I really do. ”

In Kentucky, Democrats have praised Beshear’s use of the health care law to drive down the state’s uninsured rate and his smooth rollout of kynect, the state-run exchange, even while Obama struggled with the national release of healthcare.gov.

But Pence said that while he collaborated with Beshear while both served as neighboring governors, “your former governor is wrong about Obamacare.”

The event at the Harshaw Trane facility was in the hometown of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom Pence praised as “a true friend to me, to our president, and to the people of America. ”

McConnell, however, did not attend due to a scheduling conflict.

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