LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Sen. Mitch McConnell and Gov. Steve Beshear squared off in a spirited debate about the federal health care law Thursday at the Kentucky Country Ham Breakfast.
Beshear predicted that the law will work in Kentucky to expand coverage and fight chronic health problems. He accused the law's critics of spending more time seeking its repeal than striving to improve public health.
Seated a few feet away when the Democratic governor made the comments were two of the law's outspoken Republican critics: McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul.
McConnell, the Senate's top-ranking Republican, responded by blaming the health care law championed by President Barack Obama for driving up health insurance premiums and spurring employees to turn full-time workers into part-time help.
"So, governor, the solution to 'Obamacare' is to pull it out root and branch," McConnell said.
The debate over the Affordable Care Act took place during the Kentucky Farm Bureau's annual Country Ham Breakfast, an event that draws a cross-section of the state's most influential people in politics, education, business and agriculture.
Beshear spoke first, noting that about 640,000 Kentuckians lack health coverage in a state with high rates of cancer deaths, heart disease and diabetes.
"The Affordable Care Act is our historic opportunity to address this weakness and to change the course of the future," he said.
Last year, Beshear ordered the creation of the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange to help arrange insurance coverage for hundreds of thousands of uninsured Kentuckians. The exchange, an outgrowth of the health care law, is set to begin open enrollment Oct. 1 and starts operation Jan. 1.
Beshear also decided to expand Kentucky's Medicaid program to cover an additional 300,000 people, most of them the working poor who lack insurance coverage.
The governor said the health care law will inject billions of dollars into Kentucky's economy and create jobs. He then took aim at the law's critics.
"It's amazing to me how people who are pouring time and money and energy into trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act sure haven't put that kind of energy into trying to improve the health of Kentuckians," he said.
Paul later scoffed at Beshear's claims that the health care law will produce a multi-billion-dollar windfall for Kentucky's economy.
"From where? From the Federal Reserve, which is already sitting at minus-$17 trillion dollars?" he asked. "Anybody who says something's free and I'm going to bring it to Kentucky, it costs nothing, I'm going to help everyone, they'll be a chicken in every pot — it's not free. There are consequences to this."
Paul, a potential GOP presidential candidate in 2016, said the nation's job growth is lackluster because "our country is drowning in debt."