ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has rejected President Donald Trump's advice to nix the GOP's complex health care proposal in favor of a bill that would simply get rid of "Obamacare" once and for all.
McConnell told reporters after an event Friday in his home state of Kentucky that the Republican health care bill remains challenging but "we are going to stick with that path" in response to a question about the president's tweet. Former President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010, and Republicans have been trying to get rid of it ever since.
Earlier in the day, Trump tweeted that if Republicans could not reach a consensus they "should immediately REPEAL, and then REPLACE at a later date!" Several Republican senators have signed on to Trump's strategy, including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
But McConnell showed no interest in that strategy, telling a gathering of Republicans in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, that "failure has to be possible or you can't have success."
"It's not easy making American great again, is it," McConnell said.
McConnell has struggled to unite an unruly Republican caucus on the details of replacing the overhaul championed by Obama. While that health care law has brought insurance to millions of people, it also has increased costs for states and some individual health insurance plans.
On Friday, Kentucky regulators announced rates for plans sold on the state's exchange could increase as much as 34 percent next year. State officials in Republican Gov. Matt Bevin's administration blamed the increase on the "failure of Obamacare." But insurance carriers have struggled to predict the market next year with so much uncertainty surrounding the Republican health care plan in Congress.
McConnell compared the Senate's negotiations to a Rubik's Cube, saying he is "trying to figure out how to twist the dials to get to 50 to replace this with something better."
For 30-year-old Eli Whitlock, the Affordable Care Act was working just fine. Whitlock was one of about 85 people who showed up to protest McConnell's speech Friday night to the Republican Party in Kentucky's Hardin County.
Whitlock said he was 21 when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He dropped out of college to pick up more hours at work to help pay for his medical bills. But that kicked him off of his parents' insurance policy, leaving him languishing on the individual market with the dreaded "pre-existing condition."
He spent two years without health insurance, until the Affordable Care Act went into effect and he purchased an individual plan on Kentucky's health insurance exchange. Now he's on his wife's insurance, and they are expecting their first child in December.
"Our little girl will most likely be born with a preexisting condition," he said, anticipating the child would likely be born with a genetic blood disorder that runs in his family.
But inside the local GOP dinner, McConnell was greeted with applause for his commitment to replacing "this awful Obamacare law."
For 61-year-old Ken Randall, the Affordable Care Act cost him money. Randall has been a one-man insurance agency for 29 years in Elizabethtown. He primarily sells property and casualty policies, but he had a side business of selling individual insurance plans. He said he had to stop selling those plans after the Affordable Care Act passed because he couldn't make money any more.
"Could you imagine how expensive car insurance would be if someone could get car insurance policy to cover an accident they had the day before? That's what's happened with Obamacare," Randall said. "They need to bring the private sector back in. Otherwise, there is not going to be health insurance or health care for anybody."