LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - While Senate Republicans wrangled behind closed doors over health care Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Kentucky, one of the states with the most at stake as the GOP pushes to repeal and replace President Barack Obama's signature health care law.
Pence planned to join Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in Lexington for a meeting with Kentuckians who say they have been hurt by the Affordable Care Act.
Kentucky Republicans say the law is on a downward spiral and have welcomed Pence's visit as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tries to orchestrate its overhaul.
But former Gov. Steve Beshear said the event is another example of President Donald Trump's administration "choosing to put politics over people."
Beshear, a Democrat, has been among the biggest advocates for Obama's law, which he used to expand health care coverage to many more Kentuckians and push the state's uninsured rates to historic lows.
"Vice President Pence should skip the private meeting with his carefully chosen audience and instead face the 231,000 Kentuckians who will lose health coverage if Sen. McConnell's horrific plan to destroy the ACA becomes law," Beshear said in a statement. "And he should be urging his party leaders to sit down with health experts, Democrats and others to work on health care."
Kentucky's Republican senators are playing pivotal roles in efforts to salvage the repeal-and-replace bill they campaigned to deliver, despite some national polls showing the initial Senate bill to be deeply unpopular.
McConnell announced he will introduce his party's revised health care bill Thursday and begin trying to push it through the Senate next week.
"The American people are looking to us for a better way," McConnell said this week. "That's why, despite the headwinds, I choose to keep working toward a better solution than Obamacare."
Sen. Rand Paul remained an obstacle to his fellow Kentuckian's efforts, denouncing Senate GOP efforts so far as "Obamacare-lite."
"I miss the old days, when Republicans stood for repealing Obamacare," Paul said in an op-ed piece. "Republicans across the country and every member of my caucus campaigned on repeal - often declaring they would tear out Obamacare 'root and branch.' What happened?"
Kentucky was among the states that expanded its Medicaid programs under the federal law to cover childless adults making below a certain income level.
Beshear made that decision, which added more than 400,000 people to the state's Medicaid rolls and is credited with slashing the number of people without health insurance in Kentucky from 20 percent to 7.5 percent in just two years, among the largest coverage gains in the country.
While federal funding covers most of that, Bevin says the state can't afford to pay its share for all of the new people allowed to enroll in Medicaid because of the Affordable Care Act, especially with the state facing a multibillion-dollar public pension shortfall.
McConnell has denounced Obama's law as "a direct attack on the middle class."
"Choice was supposed to go up but it plummeted," McConnell said. "Costs were supposed to go down. They skyrocketed."