The state of America’s health care will be a focal point of the 2014 elections and is the “transcendent issue of our time,” U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday to a crowd of physicians and nurses at Frankfort Regional Medical Center.
Based on the advertisements his campaign has already run against Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, likely will be a key issue in McConnell’s reelection efforts.
Grimes announced her candidacy for U.S. Senate Monday. The election is November 2014, when 33 U.S. Senate seats and all 435 U.S. House seats will be on the ballot.
Speaking to about 50 in a conference room at FRMC, McConnell said Medicare must be revamped in order to maintain the program’s solvency, and Kentucky’s decision to expand Medicaid eligibility will mean hospitals will be “dealing with 300,000 additional Medicaid patients, all of whom will be rushing to your (emergency rooms).”
The Affordable Care Act will trigger “massive provider costs” for doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, home health care and others in the industry.
“We now have a gross debt the size of our economy, which makes us look a lot like a Western European country, a lot like Italy or Spain or Greece,” he said. “Much of the drivers of that debt are health care.
“… This is the one problem which if we do not get it fixed will guarantee that we don’t leave behind for our children the same kind of country our parents left behind for us.”
McConnell has held 36 other hospital town hall meetings. He’s expected to face tea party opposition in the Republican primary, and Grimes seems to be the early odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination.
McConnell was not available for questions from the media Tuesday after his remarks, citing a busy schedule, but he took questions from the audience.
He said the new health care law is considerably complex, noting the first 20,000 pages of the law reached seven feet when stacked behind him during a March speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.
“We’re never going to solve this problem until we adjust the eligibility for these very popular programs to the demographics of our country,” he said, noting life expectancies have risen considerably since Social Security was enacted in 1935.
“There is not enough health care providers you can cut, not enough taxes you can raise to deal with the challenge of the changes in the demographics of America.”
Some employers are stopping short of hiring more than 50 employees because they would be required to provide health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, McConnell said.
That has slowed economic recovery from the recession, he said.
“Since the (Great) Depression, after every deep recession, there’s been a quick bounce back,” he said. “In fact, the deeper the recession, the quicker the bounce back — until this one.”
McConnell touted the role he played in negotiating three major bipartisan agreements in recent years: the 2010 two-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts; the Budget Control Act of 2011; and the fiscal cliff deal reached last New Year’s Eve.
He mentioned former presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton when he said he’s looking for Obama to “move to the center” in negotiations.
“A little fix isn’t going to solve these problems that I’m talking about,” he said. “We need a systemic change in order to take the pressure off of health care providers.”