Pence Pitches Paul in Kentucky

Bevin disparages idea that expanding health coverage is good

Vice President Mike Pence went to Kentucky to try to shore up the support of Sen. Rand Paul, who was back in Washington and getting seemingly further away from what the vice president wants on health care legislation. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Vice President Mike Pence hasn’t given up on winning over Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the commonwealth’s senior senator, has been leading the effort to craft the latest variant of repeal and replacement legislation that’s expected to be revealed Thursday.

“Under his leadership, and with the help of Kentucky’s other senator, we’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Pence said at an event in Kentucky.

“Now let me say from my heart, the president and I really like Sen. Rand Paul. I’ve known him for a lot of years. He’s a man of principle and conviction. Sen. Rand Paul is a great conservative and a great legislator and he does Kentucky proud,” Pence said. “The president and I believe, when the time comes, Sen. Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul will do the right thing together and we will pass legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare and end the Obamacare nightmare once and for all.”

Pence was in Lexington, Ky., shortly after Paul told reporters on Capitol Hill that the draft of a bill to roll back the health care law was moving in the wrong direction from a version he already opposed.

“They’ve now taken the bill and made it worse,” Paul said.

Barring significant changes, Paul seems a lock to oppose the motion to proceed to the measure under budget reconciliation, the procedure that would allow the GOP to pass the bill with as few as 50 votes and Pence on hand to break a tie.

“I came here today to turn up the heat because this is the moment. Now is the time,” Pence said. “It’s time for Congress to step up and repeal and replace Obamacare.”

Reporters on the ground in Kentucky said the venue for Pence’s speech in a warehouse was literally sweltering.

“Voting could start as early as next week, so I need you to stay tuned, and I need you to stay engaged,” Pence said.

“The president and I couldn’t be more grateful for Sen. Mitch McConnell’s leadership and commitment to an agenda that will make America great again,” Pence said in his formal remarks. “He’s doing a great job.”

Pence praised McConnell on several fronts, getting particular applause for the Senate confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

Apart from the Paul-McConnell dynamic, the vice president’s trip to the Bluegrass State ended up highlighting some of the difficulty with replacing the 2010 law.

Pence met with local small business leaders before taking the main stage, where people complained about large premium and deductible choices, as well as decreased competition.

Seated directly to Pence’s left was Julie Roberts, a ‎local SERVPRO franchise owner. Roberts’ concerns to Pence underscored the complicated situation in Kentucky, which adopted Medicaid expansion under a former governor, Democrat Steven Beshear.

Roberts said that both regular premium payments and deductibles for employees on company health insurance coverage have skyrocketed, but many are on Medicaid.

“Trying to sit down with someone who makes minimum wage and explain to them how their bi-weekly deductions are going up to $109, and they still have high deductibles,” she said.

“My employees that had insurance before, still have insurance, they’re keeping it. They’re paying a higher premium,” Roberts said. “But the ones that didn’t have it before Obamacare still don’t have it. They’re on Medicaid. They don’t understand what it means. They don’t have any concept of what a health care marketplace is, and that term alone is terrifying to them.”

“Most don’t have high school education, so to expect them to go find their own health care and make those choices is really unrealistic,” Roberts said.

Kentucky’s GOP Gov. Matt Bevin introduced Pence at the speech inside the warehouse.

“We’ve perpetrated this myth that somehow expanding coverage is good for everyone, when in fact it’s leading to fewer jobs, it’s leading to fewer people being covered,” said the governor. “Covered doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have access to health care, and we’ve got to give people the ability to have an engaged participation in their own health outcomes.”

“There is no free lunch. There is no free ride,” Bevin said. “In the process of trying to provide things free, we are destroying this system.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.