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Pence pitches health bill in Kentucky

By KEN THOMAS Associated Press

LOUISVILLE -- Vice President Mike Pence appealed for total GOP congressional support for a White House-backed health overhaul during a brief visit Saturday to Kentucky, where the Republican governor and junior senator are among the plan's skeptics.

"This is going to be a battle in Washington, D.C. And for us to seize this opportunity to repeal and replace Obamacare once and for all, we need every Republican in Congress, and we're counting on Kentucky," Pence said at an energy company where business leaders had gathered.

He said President Donald Trump would lean on House Republicans -- including two Kentucky lawmakers in the audience, Reps. Andy Barr and Brett Guthrie -- to vote to replace former President Barack Obama's law.

Pence's trip was part of an effort to reassure conservatives who have raised objections to the House plan. In a sign of the high stakes, Pence's motorcade passed a long line of demonstrators who chanted, "Save our care."

Almost at the time Pence landed in Louisville, Trump tweeted: "We are making great progress with health care. ObamaCare is imploding and will only get worse. Republicans coming together to get job done!"

The former Indiana governor has been the chief salesman for Trump's push to jettison the Affordable Care Act. The House is expected to vote on the bill in less than two weeks, but faces resistance from critics within the GOP, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who has called the initial draft "Obamacare Lite."

Even before the legislation was released, Paul placed a copy machine outside the room where House Republicans were drafting the bill and asked for a copy -- all to draw attention to the secrecy of the plan.

GOP Gov. Matt Bevin has said his state cannot afford to pay for a growing Medicaid program, which has cost Kentucky millions more than initially expected and now covers more than 25 percent of the state's population. He has dismantled Kentucky's state-based exchange but indicated he would not favor eliminating the federal health insurance exchange.

Bevin told reporters Friday that, like Paul, he was not impressed with the initial proposal in the House.

But on Saturday he said that while there were different views on how to change the law, "ultimately these differences of opinion will be rectified." He said all could agree that "change has to come -- the system is broken."

"Now I know that not every politician in Kentucky supports our plan," Pence said, mentioning former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear but neither Paul nor Bevin.

After greeting Pence at the airport, Bevin and his children and their friend got an impromptu tour of Air Force Two, and Pence later told business leaders: "I was for Matt Bevin before it was cool."

Democrats have praised Beshear's use of the health care law to drive down the state's uninsured rate and his smooth rollout of kynect, the state-run exchange, even while Obama struggled with the national release of healthcare.gov.

The event at the Harshaw Trane facility was in the hometown of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., whom Pence praised as "a true friend to me, to our president, and to the people of America."

McConnell, however, did not attend due to a scheduling conflict.

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