Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised to shield certain provisions of Obamacare from repeal during the only televised debate with opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes on Monday, adopting a position that appears to be at odds with his long-standing support for eliminating the law.
During the brief exchange, McConnell reduced Kynect, a state-run insurance marketplace where Kentuckians can purchase policies that meet minimum benefit standards and qualify for subsidies, to a website and promised that it “can continue.”
“Kentucky Kynect is a website. It was paid for by a grant from the federal government,” he said. “The website can continue, but in my view the best interests of the country would be achieved by pulling out Obamacare root and branch.” McConnell explained that Kentucky officials can also maintain the state exchange “if they’d like to.” “States can decide whether or to expand Medicaid or not,” he added. “It’s a state decision.”
McConnell has tried to carve a new position on a law he has repeatedly voted to repeal throughout his re-election bid. In May, the senator wouldn’t tell reporters whether the state’s exchange should be dismantled, saying only, “I think that’s unconnected to my comments about the overall question [of repealing the law].” Jesse Benton, his then-campaign manager, later told the Washington Post that Kentucky should also maintain Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid. “These people would remain eligible even after a repeal,” he said. “The federal government does allow states flexibility in setting requirements and Kentucky could be able to keep many of the newly enrolled in the program if we decided to.”
However, if McConnell succeeds in eliminating the law, Obamacare’s subsidies would likely disappear, as would federal funding to maintain the state’s expanded Medicaid programs.
The GOP’s muddled message and growing push to embrace key parts of reform, comes as more than 8 million people have singed up for coverage under the law. Kentucky has been a model for effective implementation, enrolling some 500,000 people in coverage since October.
For her part, Grimes promised to “fix the Affordable Care Act” floating a proposal that would allow individuals to remain enrolled in Obamacare policies that don’t meet the requirements of the law. “We have over a half a million Kentuckians who for the first time ever are filling prescriptions, they’re going to the doctor, they’re getting checkups,” she said. “I will not be a senator that rips that insurance from their hands.”