Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

August 16, 2013

McConnell pays a visit to OLBH

Senator discusses Affordable Care Act

RUSSELL — U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took aim at the Affordable Care Act on Friday during a visit to Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital.

He told a room of about 40 hospital staff, “I don’t think anything about this is going to lead to better health care or to a better America. Nothing about it.”

McConnell seemed to be distancing himself from remarks he made earlier in the week during a television interview that, “there are a handful of things in the 2,700-page bill that are probably okay.”

Instead, on Friday McConnell said he opposed the bill in its entirety. “Things that can’t work won’t,” he said of President Obama’s health care reform package.

But OLBH and its parent company, Bon Secours Health Care, disagrees.

“We are a Catholic hospital so we support Obamacare,” said OLBH CEO Kevin Halter after McConnell left. “Certainly not everything we agree with. I think there are a lot of good things that have come out of Obamacare, but there are some things that are challenging, like anything else.”

Halter stressed Friday’s visit by the senator should not be taken as a partisan maneuver by OLBH. He said the hospital welcomes any member of Kentucky’s congressional delegation to visit. “It was good to hear his perspective on health care reform,” Halter said.

According to McConnell, his stop at OLBH was his 44th hospital town hall meeting since the passage of the massive health care reform bill in 2010. His remarks Friday were very similar to those given on his other stops, where he also criticized the reform effort and expressed his wish to “pull it out root and branch.”

Although McConnell called the original goal of health care reform — to insure the roughly 40 million Americans without health care coverage — “laudable,” he went on the next 30 minutes to describe why he believes Obamacare will ultimately fail. As he has before, McConnell called it “too complicated” and the “first step” toward a European-style single-payer system, he believes would ultimately lead to health care “rationing.”

He described the ACA as taking “a meat axe to the medical health care system, when I think we would have been better off to take out a scalpel and work on reducing the number of people without health insurance.”  He also criticized the plan for “raiding Medicaid,” “cutting reimbursements to providers” and “raising taxes.”

“Cost is the issue. I think if we had focused on a couple of things we could have dramatically reduced the number of people without insurance,” said McConnell. Medical malpractice reform and creating a national health care market “that put all insurance companies in a competitive model against each other,” would have worked better to “drive health care costs down and quality up,” McConnell said.

 McConnell said he was not being partisan in his criticism because other notable democrats have expressed their dissatisfaction with the bill, too.

“I wish I could leave here giving you some hope, but I think this whole trend is very, very troubling. The hope I have is that this new bill becomes so unpopular that the majority, which originally thought it was the best thing since the Ten Commandments, is going to open up to revisiting, in significant ways, the whole matter. That hasn’t happened yet, but there are some cracks developing,” he said.

Prior to the town hall, McConnell met behind closed doors with the hospital’s management team. During the 30 minutes he spent with hospital staff, he took several questions from health care workers, but not the press.

Melissa Mahaney, director of home health services, was one of three workers to question McConnell. She asked how he stood on additional cuts being proposed to home health care, which is slated to take a 14 percent cut. McConnell said he was “against it” and encouraged home health workers to complain. “Your industry is well represented in Washington. They do a good job of banging on our doors, and they should. That’s the way it works,” he said.

McConnell said he couldn’t answer another question posed by Brent Kimball, director of business development and services, about when some of the confusion over implementation might be resolved. “I don’t have a clue. We should have not done a 2,700-page bill backed up by 20,000 pages of regulations. There is no way to make that simple,” McConnell said.

Justin Fuller, director of clinical informatics, asked if $19 billion set aside to fund investment in electronic medical records is still going to be available to hospitals who have pursued them at the encouragement of the federal government. “I don’t know enough about the details to answer that. But I can get you the details,” McConnell replied.

In closing, McConnell praised health care workers and the job they have done over the last 60 plus years in improving the life expectancy of Americans. “America has, unless we foul it up, the best health care in the world,” he said.

Following the event, McConnell shook hands with departing hospital staff, but refused to answer questions about his re-election campaign posed by the press. “This is not a campaign stop. You have enough to write about,” he said before being ushered out of the building.

CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653 or by email at cstambaugh@dailyindependent.com.

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