FANCY FARM, Ky. (AP) — A week after an attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act failed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’d consider a bipartisan effort to continue payments to insurers to avert a costly rattling of health insurance markets.
McConnell told reporters Saturday there is “still a chance” the Senate could revive the measure to repeal and replace “Obamacare,” but he acknowledged the window for that is rapidly closing.
The Kentucky senator noted Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee is working on “some kind of bipartisan approach” that would involve subsidies for insurance companies.
Alexander recently said he will work with the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, on a bill next month that would pay insurers through 2018. In exchange, Alexander wants Democrats to agree to make it easier for states to choose their own health coverage standards that insurers must provide rather than abiding by former President Barack Obama’s law.
“If the Democrats are willing to support some real reforms rather than just an insurance company bailout, I would be willing to take a look at it,” McConnell said, hours before he was expected to speak at the famously raucous Fancy Farm picnic in western Kentucky.
Saturday marked McConnell’s first appearance in Kentucky since the failed health care vote. He sought to reassure disappointed conservative voters who, since 2010, have elected a wave of Republican lawmakers at the state and federal level based on the promise of getting rid of “Obamacare.” Their efforts came up one vote short on July 28 in the Senate, where McConnell controls the agenda.
McConnell spoke Saturday afternoon at Fancy Farm, a rowdy political tradition where lawmakers from both parties give speeches before hundreds of hecklers. McConnell did not mention health care during his roughly five-minute speech, instead focusing on his successful effort to block Obama from filling a vacancy on the Supreme Court in the final year of his term.
A few hours before his speech, McConnell told a local gathering of Republicans that he chooses “not to dwell on situations where we come up a little bit short.” He said he consoles himself by remembering that “Hillary Clinton could be president.”
“Almost instantly, I feel better,” he said.
Kentucky Republicans, including McConnell and Gov. Matt Bevin, have openly campaigned for eliminating the Affordable Care Act, which expanded the state’s Medicaid program and brought health insurance to nearly half a million people. Despite that, voters have overwhelmingly supported Republicans, including in areas where the Medicaid expansion is the most prevalent. Democrats believe the Republican attempt to eliminate that expansion is finally getting the attention of voters who depend on the law for their health coverage.
Rocky Adkins, the Democratic leader of the Kentucky House of Representatives, said McConnell “showed his hand” by backing a proposal that the Congressional Budget Office said would eliminate health coverage for millions of people.
“I think people really opened their eyes,” said Adkins, who is considering a run for governor in 2019. “I’m seeing more energy on the ground as I travel across Kentucky than I’ve seen in my now 31 years being in the Kentucky House of Representatives.”
Andy Beshear, Kentucky’s Democratic attorney general, called the Republican health care proposals “immoral,” noting the state has some of the highest rates of cancer, heart disease and drug addiction in the country.
“I think it will bring people out to the polls in droves,” he said.
That remains to be seen. Trump is as popular as ever in Kentucky, attracting a crowd of thousands for a campaign-style rally held in Louisville earlier this year.
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