Pence says Obamacare ‘failed’ Kentucky, where 500,000 gained insurance through the law

In 2013, 20.4% of Kentuckians were uninsured. In 2016, 7.8% were.

Vice President Mike Pence CREDIT: AP Photo/John Minchillo
Vice President Mike Pence CREDIT: AP Photo/John Minchillo

Speaking in Louisville, Kentucky on Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence called Obamacare a “nightmare,” and said that Kentucky was a “textbook case of Obamacare’s failures.”

There’s only one problem with those statements — Obamacare provided insurance to 20 million Americans, and Kentucky has actually been one of Obamacare’s biggest success stories.

In 2013, 20.4 percent of Kentucky residents were uninsured. In 2016, that number had fallen to 7.8 percent. Kentucky governor Matt Bevin, who actually campaigned on getting rid of Obamacare, found once he entered office that because the health care plan was helping so many people, he couldn’t kill it easily. Instead, he merely rebranded the law to make it more friendly to conservatives.

Many people in Kentucky now have insurance through the expansion of Medicaid, which was a central part of Obamacare, or Kynect, which is Kentucky’s name for its Obamacare exchange.

Before Pence’s speech on Saturday, Louisville mayor Greg Fischer released a statement urging the vice president and the rest of the federal government to “slow down and get health care right — for the sake of 500,000 Kentuckians, including 100,000 Louisville residents, who have garnered coverage under the Affordable Care Act.”

But patience is not a virtue this administration has been shown to value. This week, House Republicans released their official plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. The Trumpcare plan includes massive cuts to Medicaid, defunds Planned Parenthood, eliminates abortion coverage, and provides a huge tax break for CEOs of insurance companies making over $500,000 a year. It is being opposed by a wide range of groups, from the American Medical Association to America’s Health Insurance Plans.

It would also significantly raise prices for the poor, particularly those who are older.

Just two days after that plan was unveiled to the public, the House Ways and Means Committee advanced the legislation without any changes at 4:30 a.m. with a 23–16 vote in the bill’s favor. It is clear that supporters of the bill, including President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, are trying to fast-track the bill through Congress despite the fact that the Congressional Budget Office hasn’t yet released a report estimating the cost and how many people could lose coverage under the bill.

Pence’s speech in Kentucky — which also addressed strengthening our military and stopping undocumented immigrants from crossing the border, and Trump’s Supreme Court nomination — didn’t include many details at all about the new health care legislation. Instead, he focused on the anti-Obamacare talking points that Trump campaigned on, mainly the cost and the lack of competition in the marketplace.

While nobody is arguing that Obamacare is perfect and can’t be improved, repealing the bill without a comprehensive replacement plan would be extremely damaging. One report estimates that the Obamacare repeal could cost the United States 1.2 million jobs. Most significantly, more than 36,000 people could die each year without it, including Kentucky residents.

“Of course I worry about if my cancer were to come back what would happen, but now I have to add to that what would happen if I lose my health insurance,” cancer survivor and Kentucky resident Leah Briemer, who credits the Affordable Care Act for saving her life, told ABC News last month. “My daughter’s 18. She’s graduating from high school. I need to be here for my daughter. Help her get through college. Help her have a wedding. See my grandchildren be born.”

She added, “When something’s working for so many people and you decide you’re going to take it away. And you say it’s horrible, it’s not working for anyone, even though it is, yeah that’s playing politics with my life and many others.”