- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 22, 2017

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell faced some tough questions about his efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act during a visit home Wednesday.

Among those sticking up for the embattled health law were a businessman who credits it with helping him offer insurance to his employees and a diabetic who said it allowed her to get coverage after being turned down by insurers.

Outside the Louisville-area hotel where McConnell spoke, hundreds of chanting protesters condemned the Kentucky Republican’s stand on issues including his intention to undo the Obama-era health care law. One sign proclaimed health care a “human right.” Inside, the senator defended their right to speak out - calling it “about as American as apple pie” - but said they’re doing so because “they’re sorry they lost the election.”

McConnell got a warm reception from the Jeffersontown Chamber of Commerce, but faced pointed questions from some in the crowd who pressed for specifics about his efforts to replace the health law he’s vowed for years to eliminate.

The senator told the audience that congressional Republicans are working to replace it with “something that makes more sense.”

James W. Moore, who runs a technology consulting firm, told McConnell that the health law has been good for his business. He said it’s enabled him to provide health coverage for his employees and said he feels “very threatened” by efforts to repeal and replace it.

McConnell sounded surprised that a businessman would defend the law: “I’m sure I’ve never heard that before.”

Moore replied he knows other business operators who support the law. He asked McConnell if the GOP’s overhaul will preserve President Barack Obama’s Medicaid expansion to cover additional lower-earning people that many states - including Kentucky - accepted.

“I don’t know how that’s going to end,” McConnell said. “We’ll find out here in the next couple of months.”

Moore responded that his answer was tantamount to “kicking the can down the road.” The senator replied: “It’s not kicking the can down the road. It’s not telling you something that’s not knowable yet. No one knows yet.”

Next up was Terri Jewell, who wanted to know why congressional Republicans didn’t work with Obama to improve the existing law.

McConnell pointed to “fundamental differences” between the two sides. He said last year’s elections that put Republican Donald Trump in the White House and maintained GOP majorities in Congress amounted to a referendum on the issue.

“The American people decided to elect a different government, and I don’t think anybody should be surprised that we think we can do a better job and we’re going to try to do that here in the next few months,” he said.

Jewell tried to ask a follow-up question but was told the question-and-answer session was finished.

Afterward, she said she worries that people with existing health problems will be hurt by the Republican alternative. Jewell said she could not get insurance for years because of her diabetes until she gained coverage through the health law. She’s now covered by her employer’s health plan.

Earlier in the session, McConnell touted creating high-risk pools for people whose pre-existing medical conditions make them costly to insure.

“They can work if properly funded by a combination of the federal government and the state government and be based at the state level,” he said. “So that’s the goal here. We fully understand the need for high-risk pools to take care of those with pre-existing conditions, and that will be part of anything that comes next.”

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