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McConnell continues criticism of health care changes

BY DAVID ZOELLERdzoeller@paducahsun.com

Sen. Mitch McConnell visited western Kentucky on Tuesday, discussing topics ranging from health care to hemp.

McConnell met in Cadiz with members of the staff at Trigg County Hospital to hear about any issues they may be experiencing, and to discuss implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act, before heading to Murray State University to get an update on a pilot project to grow industrial hemp in the state.

After a brief session with hospital staff, McConnell addressed the ACA. The senator said the act was initiated in a "totally partisan" way and put too much of a burden on the health care system and consumers.

"There's too many problems, too many unhappy people," the senator said. "I don't think it's going to stand."

Calling the act "the worst piece of legislation in the last half-century," McConnell said he favors setting up a national marketplace allowing insurance companies to compete against each other to provide better health insurance options, initiating medical malpractice reform at the federal level to lower health care costs, and allowing small businesses to band together to form larger groups to be able to get insurance coverage at a lower cost.

McConnell praised the efforts of the local hospital staff in continuing to provide quality care. "I'm grateful for what you do. You're in a great field, doing great work."

In addition to the Cadiz visit, McConnell stopped by Murray State University's Equine Instructional Facility for a brief discussion of the pilot program to grow industrial hemp. McConnell and fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul helped with language in the farm bill passed by Congress earlier this year to allow states to grow industrial hemp for research.

The Murray State pilot program is one of five in Kentucky involved in the growth, cultivation, or marketing of industrial hemp, according to Tony Brannon, dean of the Hutson School of Agriculture at MSU. The pilot program is in the very early stages. According to Brannon, hemp could be very similar to tobacco in that it is a high-value crop that can be produced on smaller acreage.

"If there's a market, I'm confident we can grow it," he said.

McConnell said one of the interesting elements of the program will be to see if hemp seeds can be obtained from the Ukraine.

"Who knew that Ukraine would come up (as a topic) at Murray State University?" McConnell said with a smile.

Hemp represents all kinds of potential uses from pharmaceuticals to auto parts, McConnell was told. Hemp could also help Kentucky farmers utilize marginal lands, according to Fred Nesler of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

"Hemp will do quite well in those areas," Nesler said.

On the election front, it was reported Tuesday that despite raising more money than McConnell in the past three months, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes still trails the Senate Republican leader by a 2-1 margin in available funds.

Grimes' campaign says it raised $2.7 million in the first quarter of 2014, and the McConnell campaign reported it raised $2.4 million in the quarter. The Grimes campaign has close to $5 million available to spend compared to McConnell's $10.4 million.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact David Zoeller, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.

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