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Pence speaks at campaign-style visit in Cleveland

Meeting solicits input from small-business owners on costs, rules

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    Tendon Manufacturing President Michael Gordon Sr. introduces Vice President Mike Pence during a visit to discuss health care at a roundtable at Tendon Manufacturing in Bedford, Ohio, Wednesday, June 28, 2017. (Joshua Gunter/The Plain Dealer via AP)

    AP

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    Pence in listening session with business owners before speech about health care in Cleveland. June 28.

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    Ventura

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BEDFORD, Ohio — Vice President Mike Pence said at an Ohio factory that a federal overhaul of the Affordable Care Act is “close” and is being worked on with input from U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio), who opposes the current bill.

Mr. Pence spoke at a campaign-style visit to a Cleveland-area manufacturing plant on Wednesday.

“We’re working closely with Senator Portman and other members of the Senate to get it done. We’re close, we’re going to get it done,” Mr. Pence said in response to a question from a reporter.

VIDEO: Vice President Mike Pence visits Cleveland factory

The bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, supported by President Trump, was shelved Tuesday because Senate Republican leaders didn’t have the votes to get it passed, as both moderate and conservative senators found fault with it.

Mr. Pence said in his speech that the Republican plan is “going to create a dynamic health insurance market,” which will “put patients back in control of their own health care instead of bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.”

The vice president sat with Cleveland-area business owners inside the Tendon Manufacturing Inc. factory in Bedford, a Cleveland suburb, for a half-hour listening session. Business owners shared the problems they said they’ve had with the the Affordable Care Act. Mr. Pence then toured some of the work stations where metal pieces were cut, drilled, and shaped.

He got a souvenir on the tour: a piece of steel cut in the shape of Ohio with his name engraved in the center.

During the listening session, the group of six men and three women took turns talking about how the costs and regulations of the Affordable Care Act have affected their businesses.

Several of those who spoke bemoaned the cost and said it forced them to lay off people or delay hiring.

Mike Gordon, Tendon Manufacturing’s owner, told Mr. Pence the emphasis should be on the high cost of health care.

“Unless we start driving down the cost of health care, it doesn’t matter what insurance we have,” Mr. Gordon said.

Michael Canty, owner of Alloy Bellows and Precision Welding, said about a third of his 130 employees choose to take no insurance at all.

“We really have to pass this. It has to get done,” Mr. Canty said. “It takes away from the company money, which they don’t spend building value, which benefits everybody.”

Afterward, Mr. Pence delivered remarks to an audience of several hundred people.

“Obamacare is failing. Obamacare must go. Democrats in Congress would rather let Obamacare implode and the country suffer than admit their mistake,” Mr. Pence said. “They won’t succeed because President Donald Trump will not relent until we repeal and replace this failed law and end the Obamacare nightmare once and for all.”

Touching on the key issue of Medicaid expansion, Mr. Pence characterized the proposed large reductions in Medicaid not as cuts but as providing more flexibility to the state government to address state-specific problems, such as opiate addiction.

Mr. Pence came to Ohio hoping to sell the President’s health-care agenda.

Mr. Portman, when announcing his opposition to the bill on Tuesday, said he feared that cuts and changes to Medicaid would hurt Ohio’s ability to fight the epidemic.

“For months, I have engaged with my colleagues on solutions that I believe are necessary to ensure that we improve our health-care system and better combat this opioid epidemic,” he said. “Unfortunately, the Senate draft falls short and therefore I cannot support it in its current form.”

Other senators who oppose the bill came at it from the opposite direction, saying it did not repeal enough of the Medicaid expansion, entitlements, subsidies, and mandates of the Affordable Care Act passed under President Barack Obama.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) made a statement on the floor of the House on Wednesday and said in a tweet that, “[Mr. Pence] shouldn’t mislead us on how this anti-life #TrumpCare bill will cause job losses & suffering.”

Two Ohio candidates for governor were on hand. U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci (R., Wadsworth) flew from Washington with Mr. Pence, and was mentioned by the vice president during his speech. In the audience was Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. They are among four Republicans seeking the GOP nomination to succeed Gov. John Kasich in the 2018 elections.

Sherry Epstein, a local business owner who attended the vice president’s visit, said she’s looking for health-care reform that will enable her small company to provide insurance to its employees. ATC Lighting & Plastics Inc. has fewer than the 50 employees that trigger the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandate for employers.

“I’m honored that the vice president would take the time to come to Cleveland, which is historically Democratic,” Ms. Epstein said. “I am hopeful that there will be an affordable health-care plan that takes into account the working poor and the elderly, something that allows businesses to provide health care to employees.”

About 15 Tendon employees were part of the vice president’s tour group. One employee, Jim Ventura, 52, of Maple Heights, said he believed most were Trump supporters. He said the company has gained business since Mr. Trump’s election.

He said the visit was planned a week ago, so it was in place before the Senate bill was stalled.

“[President Trump] had so much crap to fix. It’s going a little slower than what people want, but I see the headway,” Mr. Ventura said. “We needed a change. This was stagnant.”

After the speech Mr. Ventura said he gets health care through his employer at a cost to him of about $130 a month.

The Ohio Democratic Party put out a statement saying the “Senate health-care bill breaks practically every major promise that Trump and Pence have made to communities across Ohio. This bill is unconscionably cruel and increases the burden on Ohio workers, women, children, older Americans, and middle class families and guts funding for those struggling with substance abuse, while giving the wealthiest Americans a huge tax break.”

Contact Tom Troy: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058 or on Twitter @TomFTroy.

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