Pence to make case for health care overhaul in Kentucky

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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tom Price, center, meet with representatives of conservative political groups, including American Conservative Union Chairman Matthew Schlapp, right, to discuss their plans for repealing and replacing ObamaCare in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 10, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence is taking the Trump administration’s case for a health care overhaul to Kentucky, where one of the state’s GOP senators has been a leading critic of the White House-backed overhaul and the governor is unimpressed with the current proposal to replace the Obama-era law.

Pence planned to tour an energy services company Saturday with Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, part of an effort to reassure conservatives who have raised objections to the House GOP health care proposal that would scrap former President Barack Obama’s law.

Pence has been the chief salesman for President Donald Trump’s push to repeal and replace the law. The House is expected to vote on the bill in less than two weeks but faces fierce resistance from critics, including Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., 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 negotiate changes to the bill, telling Fox News’ Bret Baier that the legislation introduced in the House was simply the start of the process.

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.

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In Kentucky, Democrats have praised former Kentucky Gov. Steve 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 Bevin, Beshear’s successor, 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 said Friday he would tell Paul that “we support their effort to fix this problem,” but that was not a fan of the initial proposal. The governor told reporters that Paul “is not impressed with what has currently been offered. Truth be told, I’m not either. So I’m with him.”

Paul has been among the Senate’s foremost critics of the bill. Even before the legislation was released, he brought 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.

Trump, who faced Paul in the GOP presidential primaries last year, made a pitch for persuasion on Twitter, writing that he was sure Paul would “come along with the new and great health care program.”

The event at the Harshaw Trane facility is in the hometown of Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who will not be in attendance because of a scheduling conflict.

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