Embattled Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell has an Obamacare problem, and not the one you think. His state’s version of the program, KyNect, is so popular and so successful, that if he tells voters outright that he wants to kill it, he might be killing his Senate career, too.
So ever since his GOP primary victory over the Tea Party’s Matt Bevin, he’s been bobbing and weaving trying to avoid admitting that his plans to repeal the ACA would destroy KyNect. Last Friday, during a joint press conference with Sen. Rand Paul, he called the ACA the "single worst piece of legislation" passed in half a century. But then he claimed that the fate of KyNect was “unconnected” to the repeal of the law.
He’s been dogged by disbelieving local and national reporters ever since, so now McConnell has a new lie: If Kentucky likes its state exchange, it can keep its state exchange, even after the repeal of Obamacare.
“If Obamacare is repealed, Kentucky should decide for itself whether to keep KyNect or set up a different marketplace,” McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore told Louiville’s NPR affiliate WFPL.
The only problem is, it isn’t true.
Sure, Kentucky could continue to run some kind of state exchange in the absence of the Affordable Care Act. But what would it sell? All of the standards that improved insurance – and made comparison shopping easier – would be gone. All of the subsidies that enabled working-class Kentuckians to afford it – gone too. Medicaid expansion? Say goodbye.
And as the local Leo Weekly notes, the Kynect website and call center were funded by $252 million in federal ACA grants. So without that funding, Kentucky would be ponying up scarce state cash to support a website to sell a product that doesn’t exist anymore.
It’s like a thief reassuring you that you can keep your wallet --- after he empties it of your cash and credit cards.
"An exchange could exist without Obamacare -- but it would be largely irrelevant," Obamacare architect Jon Gruber told TPM’s Sahil Kapur. "A number of states tried to set up group purchasing arrangements and related approaches pre-Obamacare and they by and large failed. Without tax credits and the mandate, there is little demand for the exchange -- and it does relatively little for the market."
The truth is, if McConnell got his way and won a veto-proof majority in the Senate to repeal Obamacare (he won’t, but stay with me), some 415,000 Kentuckians would lose the healthcare they’ve obtained via KyNect. Most of them, roughly 300,000, got it via the expansion of Medicaid that Democratic Gov. Steve Bashear presided over. That’s why McConnell can’t tell the truth.
The Senate minority leader would be in real trouble over his KyNect lies if opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes could come at him directly, unobstructed by her own baggage on the ACA. Despite KyNect’s popularity, Lundergan Grimes is apparently reading polls showing that Obamacare remains unpopular, largely because of whom it’s named after. She’s gotten caught up in a dumb controversy over whether she’d have voted for it, had she been in the Senate, in 2010. She won’t say.
I have some sympathy for her position, being forced to consider a meaningless hypothetical, but having it her way isn’t working either. She ought to say: “Had I been in the Senate, instead of Mitch McConnell and his obstructionism, we’d have produced an even better bill, and I’d have proudly cast my vote for it.”
Without a clear answer from Lundergan Grimes, the local and national media are going to continue playing “he said, she said,” equating McConnell’s KyNect lies with her evasions in a grand Kentucky version of “both sides do it.” It will take courage from McConnell’s Democratic challenger to make sure he pays for his slippery, dishonest approach to this question. She can’t rely on the media to do it for her.