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Pence Tells Kentucky Group Bipartisan Obamacare Fix Not Possible

Mike Pence in Lexington

Vice President Mike Pence stopped in Lexington Wednesday to listen to the complaints of business owners who don't like Obamacare.

The event was part of the White House’s effort to fulfill a campaign promise to repeal the law, but Republicans have had trouble building a consensus over how to go about doing that.

Terry Bryant, owner of the party supply warehouse where Pence's listening session took place, called on Pence to work with Democrats on an Obamacare solution.

“Talking with my employees they want to see, sir, a bipartisan solution," said Bryant, owner of Bryant’s Rent-All. "They don’t want to see this come up in another four years or eight years. They said it would be great if we can do that. That’s what we need. This is the American people, not some group here or some group there.”

Pence told Bryant a bipartisan bill wouldn’t be possible.

“Would that we could do it on a bipartisan basis, as other major legislative initiatives have happened in the past," Pence said. "I would say from early on in this Congress, the minority party in the House and the Senate has made it clear they want no part of it.”

During a speech after the listening session, Pence promised an Obamacare replacement bill would pass by the end of summer. But that's going to be an uphill battle. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can only afford to lose two Republican votes to get the bill out of the Senate. And so far, Kentucky’s junior senator, Rand Paul, says he won’t vote for the plan because it’s not conservative enough.

Pence's listening session was focused on small-business owners who said the Affordable Care Act has hurt their businesses through rising costs and mandates.

Under Obamacare, companies that employ more than 50 people have to provide insurance for employees that work more than 30 hours a week on average.

Jim Akers is the chief operating officer of Bluegrass Stockards in Lexington. He told Pence that he doesn’t like the policy because it forces him to provide insurance to workers he wouldn’t otherwise.

“It forces us constantly to get that call from the accounting office saying, ‘Hey, you know Bob got 33 hours last week, we’ve got to do something,'" Akers said. "I don’t like that relationship because it changes the culture of our business.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that about 22 million people would lose health coverage if the Senate's bill becomes law — mostly through the gradual phase out of funding for expanded Medicaid programs in states like Kentucky.

The commonwealth added about 460,000 people to its Medicaid rolls through the expansion.

Gary Watkins, president of Wabuck Development in Leitchfield, said welfare programs like Medicaid discourage unemployed people from finding jobs.

“It is very needful that they be a producer of resources and have a value and a self esteem that they can come home with and not only for themselves but that they can pass onto their children as well," Watkins said.

McConnell released a new version of the healthcare bill on Thursday — allowing insurers to provide cheaper plans with fewer benefits, adding provisions that allow people to pay for insurance tax-free using health savings accounts and setting aside money to fight the opioid epidemic.

The new version still phases out funding for state Medicaid expansions.

McConnell said he wants to pass the bill without votes from Democrats despite Republicans' razor-thin majority in the Senate.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. Email Ryland at rbarton@lpm.org.