Pence to make case for health care overhaul in Kentucky

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence is set to rally support in Kentucky for a White House-backed health care overhaul, traveling to a state that has often been front-and-center in the battle over former President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care law.

In Louisville, Pence is scheduled to tour an energy services company with Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, part of an effort to reassure conservative Republicans who have raised objections to the House GOP health care proposal that would scrap the “Obamacare” health care law.

Pence has been the chief salesman for President Donald Trump’s push to repeal and replace the health care 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 of Kentucky, who has called the initial draft “Obamacare Lite.” Several influential conservative groups, including 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.

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.

In the Senate, Paul has been among the 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.