Health Politics

As the U.S. Senate has debated the repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act over the past few weeks, Kentucky’s senators have played major roles. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul have been two of Obamacare’s most vocal opponents. But McConnell was tasked with shepherding the Senate’s health proposal through the legislative body, which ultimately failed. And Paul was one of the first Republican detractors, saying the Senate bill wasn’t conservative enough.

But in their home state, many residents got health care through Obamacare, even as voters consistently elected politicians who wanted to scale back or scrap the law. And many Kentuckians aren’t happy with current proposals to alter the program.

‘I’ll probably lay down and die somewhere’

David Caudill is waiting outside of a government office in Lexington—he’s on Medicaid and has a heart condition. He says he wouldn’t be able to afford his medication without the program.

“Cause I’m on some heart medicine to make my heart slow down,” he said. “I couldn’t afford my medicine—they say it’s very very high. I’ll probably lay down and die somewhere.”

Caudill is one of 460,000 Kentuckians who got coverage after the state expanded Medicaid. He says Republicans’ efforts to get cut the program would be hurtful.

“I don’t think it’s good, ain’t good for nobody,” he said.

Kentucky’s uninsured rate went down from more than 20 percent to less than 8 percent after the Affordable Care Act became law.

But Republicans here say it’s too expensive and doesn’t create better results.

Shileka Hill disagrees.

“I think it’s just a bunch of crock because I feel like they’re trying to take the health care away so they can do like I said– y’all have money freely to tear up these roads and pay for these horses and go overseas and take care of these other people, what about the people who live in your country?” she said.

‘A broken system’

Now that the most recent Obamacare replacement bill has failed, both Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul favor an all-out repeal, though others have declared the proposal ‘dead on arrival.’

Richard Ellison, a draftsman from Lexington, says that’s not the right way to go.

“No, I don’t agree with that,” he said. “I’m a dead-set Republican and I don’t agree with that. You got to have a contingency plan. You can’t just kill it.”

Rick Hartley is a banker who says he used to be a Republican but now describes himself as a conservative.

He calls Obamacare a “broken system,” but criticizes both parties’ approach to healthcare.

“They all play partisan politics, they’re more interested in getting reelected than they are with doing what they were sent there for which is to take care of the American people,” he said.

As for how he thinks Kentucky’s senators have been handling healthcare, Hartley praises Mitch McConnell for trying to get something done and says Rand Paul is too extreme.

“I don’t how his ideas are ever going to get implemented because you’re going to have a set amount of the Republican Party that’s not going to go with it and you’re not going to have a Democrat that’s going to go with it,” he said.

Meanwhile Kentucky’s Republican governor Matt Bevin is trying to scale back Kentucky’s Medicaid program on his own—he’s applied for a waiver to require most Medicaid recipients to pay monthly premiums and prove that they’re working or volunteering.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.