Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo
WASHINGTON, May 29 (UPI) -- Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader who is in the fight of his political life to retain his seat in Kentucky, has been one of the toughest critics of President Obama and his healthcare law.
But with Kentucky emerging as one of the Affordable Care Act's success stories, through its more than 400,000 enrollees to the state exchange Kynect, McConnell appears to be softening his stance.
At a press conference last week, McConnell indicated he considered the state's exchange -- on which nearly 331,000 enrollees signed up for Medicaid under the ACA-enabled expansion, not private insurance -- to be "unconnected" from the national law.
As for Obamacare, McConnell says he wants to repeal it "root and branch," although he has not said whether one of those branches includes the funding for Medicaid expansion.
In an exchange with the Washington Post Fact Checker this week, McConnell's campaign manager Jesse Benton attempted to thread the needle, separating the new Medicaid enrollees from the law overall.
"Medicaid existed before Obamacare and will exist if we are able to repeal it," Benton said. "Obamacare loosened eligibility requirements for Medicaid recipients, and in the process, helped find many who were already eligible but not enrolled."
"These people would remain eligible even after a repeal. The federal government does allow states flexibility in setting requirements and Kentucky could be able to keep many of the newly enrolled in the program if we decided to."
Others "would move back to HSA's and other higher deductible plans they had pre-Obamacare to receive a higher quality of care," he said.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat and one of the ACA's biggest supporters, has jumped on the inconsistencies in the McConnell campaign.
"At best, of course, his promise represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the ironclad link between the ACA and Kynect," Beshear wrote in an editorial Thursday. "At worst, it's a blatant attempt to mislead Kentucky families for his political benefit."
"While that is fun to ponder, the salient point is this: Even critics are acknowledging that the ACA is bringing health care to those who desperately need it," Beshear continued. "In short, it's working."
But McConnell's balancing act may have political payoff. While an NBC News/Marist poll found 57 percent of Kentuckians said they disapprove of the ACA, just 22 percent said they disapprove of it when it's called Kynect, 29 percent said they approve.