By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell on Tuesday called the Affordable Care Act — or Obamacare — “a monstrosity,” demanding its full repeal during a press conference he called specifically to talk about the law.
“I’m probably not going to be answering questions about anything else here,” McConnell said. “I’d prefer the news of (the) day be what I’d like it to be rather than what you all may be interested in pursuing.”
He stuck to script, answering most questions with a variation on a single theme: “This thing is a disaster for the country. It needs to be pulled out root and branch. It’s a huge mistake – that’s how I feel about it.”
McConnell suggested reporters ask his likely Democratic opponent in next year’s U.S. Senate election, Alison Lundergan Grimes, “are you for or against getting rid of this,” adding he expects Grimes to follow the lead of such red state Democratic senators as Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu.
“Whatever Mary Landrieu does, you can expect that my opponent will likely do either that day or the next day.”
He said Democratic senators like Landrieu are “wringing their hands trying to figure out how to get away from this thing they all voted for.”
Grimes is already on record about the law, saying she would extend the enrollment period and delay the individual mandate in light of problems with the federal enrollment website – but she would not repeal it.
Last month, she told CNHI News: “I have my concerns with the Affordable Care Act,” but added, “Unlike Mitch McConnell I don’t think you throw the entire act out.” A spokeswoman for Grimes’ campaign said Tuesday Grimes hasn’t changed her positions on the ACA since the CNHI interview.
McConnell said the problems with the website represent just the tip of the iceberg of problems plaguing the new law. He said the law uses a combination of taxes on medical devices and insurance policies with cuts to Medicare which together amount to $1 trillion “in order to provide a subsidy to those currently uninsured who couldn’t afford it.”
He said Medicare was “raided” of $750 billion over 10 years. According to the AARP, which lobbies on behalf of seniors, and the Congressional Budget Office, the ACA reduces Medicare spending by $716 billion between 2013 and 2022 by ending over payments to private insurance companies for Medicare supplement plans and eliminating indigent care payments to hospitals for services to indigent patients who will now be covered by ACA policies or Medicaid.
McConnell was also asked about projections that the ACA has slowed the rate of increase in medical costs.
“I’m sure you can find some study to underscore your point of view,” McConnell responded.
Studies by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the nonpartisan Kaiser Foundation indicate medical costs rose by the smallest amount in 2011 since 1960. The Kaiser Foundation study said health costs rose by 3.9 percent from 2009 to 2011; by 4 percent in 2012; and projects they will rise by 4 percent in 2013 – though the foundation expects 6 percent increases in the following years.
However, the foundation attributes part of the slower growth rate to the economic downturn and the ACA accounts for only some of it.
McConnell said he would prefer an incremental approach to reforming health care which he said is 16 percent of the national economy.
“What we could have done is rather than take a meat axe, to use a medical metaphor, is to pull out a scalpel and to work on the problems of the uninsured.”
He would do that by allowing health insurance policies to be sold across state lines; allow small businesses to band together in a pool to negotiate lower premium rates; through medical liability reform – limiting jury awards in medical malpractice suits — and by creating high risk pools for those with pre-existing conditions.
He said Gov. Steve Beshear’s decision to participate in the expanded Medicaid provisions of the ACA was “highly irresponsible,” contending the law’s guarantee to foot 90 percent of the costs of the expansion after paying 100 percent for the first three years won’t hold up given the nation’s debt.
McConnell said 280,000 Kentuckians have lost their insurance plans despite President Barack Obama’s repeated promise that those who liked their plans could keep them.
Ronda Sloan, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Insurance, said such “discontinuation” letters are neither unusual nor are they final cancellations.
“They are simply saying your current plan is being replaced with another plan that meets the requirements of the law and you are being transitioned to that plan,” Sloan said.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.