Politics
3:09 pm
Tue May 27, 2014

Obamacare Presents Political Dilemmas for Alison Lundergan Grimes and Mitch McConnell

Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes and Republican Mitch McConnell
Credit Kentucky Secretary of State/U.S. Senate

The health care law is a thorny subject for Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes and Republican Mitch McConnell in Kentucky's U.S. Senate race.

For Grimes, the health care law's political unpopularity is a political boulder.

When asked twice by the Associated Press whether she would have voted for the federal overhaul four years ago, Grimes balked.

"I, when we are in the United States Senate, will work to fix the Affordable Care Act," Grimes told the AP.

Observers commented on how Grimes was caught flat-footed at the outset of the general election.

That non-answer has been the Grimes campaign stance on Obamacare for months, even as a high number of Kentucky residents enrolled through the state exchange. GOP critics point out Grimes has been dodging those questions since last summer.

But Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell is also having trouble dealing with the law as its benefits begin to take root among Kentucky residents.

During a joint press conference at his campaign headquarters with Sen. Rand Paul last Friday, McConnell reiterated that the Affordable Care Act is the "single worst piece of legislation" passed in half a century.

The GOP leader still favors repealing it "root and branch," but when asked if Kynect, the state health exchange, should be dismantled, McConnell suggested it wasn't related to the Affordable Care Act.

"I think that’s unconnected to my comments about the overall question here," McConnell said.

Approximately 415,000 Kentuckians have signed up for insurance through the state exchange, which was created as a result of the health care law. McConnell's comment didn't draw the ire of the Grimes camp, but one Kentucky Democrat has stepped forward to defend the law.

From Gov. Steve Beshear:

Eliminating ACA means that folks with pre-existing conditions will struggle to find coverage, young adults won't be able to stay on their parents' coverage, women won't be treated equally by insurers and federal subsidies for Kentuckians will end. Senator McConnell either doesn't understand what the ACA is, or is just trying to mislead Kentucky families for his political benefit at their expense.

Polling shows the health care overhaul is a political minefield.

As WFPL reported in January, an overwhelming majority of Kentuckians favored the state's decision to expand Medicaid for low-income residents.

"We've seen great numbers of Kentuckians enroll in insurance through Kynect to get either Medicaid or more affordable, better coverage in the private sector," says Susan Zepeda, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which conducted the survey. "There are significant numbers of Kentuckians who clearly see an advantage to having access to having insurance they didn't have previously."

On the face value that is a benefit for Grimes, but it's an argument she appears unwilling to fully embrace on the campaign trail. Grimes has said she is against "taking away insurance" of the 400,000 people who recently enrolled.

But she is also busy maintaining a safe distance from President Obama, and for good reason.

Earlier this month, a NBC News/Marist poll showed 57 percent of registered voters in Kentucky hold an unfavorable opinion of "Obamacare." When it's called "Kynect" the same survey found just about 29 percent of voters hold a favorable view of the law versus 22 percent who do not.

The McConnell campaign made clear he does not endorse the state exchange, but indicated it could survive a full blown repeal if the GOP takes over the Senate. 

"If Obamacare is repealed, Kentucky should decide for itself whether to keep Kynect or set up a different marketplace," McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore told WFPL.

"But Kentuckians shouldn't have been forced to lose the plans they had and liked, shouldn't have seen their premiums skyrocket, shouldn't have had their Medicare cut, and shouldn't have had their taxes raised because of President Obama and his friends in Washington forced it down their throats."​

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