Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is out with a new campaign ad touting his success in securing free preventive health care services for Kentuckians. The spot, titled “Cares,” tries to paint the Senate Minority Leader as a compassionate Republican who carries a moral obligation to provide sick people with access to government-sponsored health care.
It’s a message you wouldn’t expect from a Republican senate leader who has voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and continues to oppose its implementation in Kentucky. But the minute-long ad, featuring Robert Pierce, an energy worker and throat cancer survivor, highlights the Republican Senate leader’s effort to secure “cancer screening programs” for Kentuckians and provide them with government compensation. Watch the spot:
The assistance is the result of an entitlement McConnell secured for former employees of a plant in Paducah, Kentucky who were exposed to high levels of uranium throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and who now suffer from cancer or other ailments. As the Huffington Post’s Zach Carter and Jason Cherkis catalogue in their exhaustive report on the crisis, McConnell had initially “kept the plant’s doors open” to guarantee jobs for his constitutes, even as “the plant’s toxins had spread through the air and into the ground, slowly killing its own workers and tainting the surrounding area.” Though McConnell had toured the facility, “knew about the contaminated water supply and the mountain of leaking storage containers,” and had been in regular consultation with the Department of Energy about the crisis, he ultimately voted against an amendment that would have held nuclear subcontractors liable for negligence or misconduct at nuclear plants — and didn’t take legislative action to help the plant’s sick workers until 1999.
Almost two decades after employees began dying from cancer, and five years after the Paducah plant was declared a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency, McConnell pushed through a new entitlement “that allowed plant workers over age 50 access to free body scans and free health care.” The program also “provided $150,000 lump sum payments to workers who developed cancers or other illnesses from radiation exposures, and up to $250,000 in compensation for medical problems caused by other toxins.” Once the benefit started flowing in 2001, McConnell and his wife, then-energy secretary Elaine Chao, even “flew to Paducah and awarded the first $150,000 check.”
McConnell has long used his influence to direct federal funds to other health care programs that closely resemble the preventive goals outlined in the Affordable Care Act. The Kentucky senator secured an earmark that ultimately provided pregnant women with sonograms and routine care. He also “directed money to everything from mobile health screenings to lab upgrades for stem cell research into heart failure” and “earmarked close to $3 million to fund heart health classes that would educate residents in the state’s rural areas about how to eat better and exercise.”
Yet ultimately, McConnell’s piecemeal approaches to Kentucky’s health care problems — it’s a state where 17 percent of residents are uninsured, 69.1 percent of adults are overweight or obese, and 30 percent have high blood pressure — won’t solve the state’s public health care crisis. Obamacare, which has provided more than 116,000 Kentuckians with health care coverage, could. But McConnell still opposes the law. Responding to the state’s success in implementing the measure, McConnell said he doesn’t believe in “free” benefits, telling reporters, “That’s free health care. If you want to give out free health care you’re going to have a lot of interest. Just like free anything else.”