FRANKFORT — There aren’t many Republicans in Kentucky’s General Assembly who like the new Affordable Care Act or Obamacare as they call it.
But that doesn’t mean some of their constituents back home feel the same way.
“People who are now able to get coverage definitely feel differently about it,” said Sue Singleton of the McCreary Christian Center which operates a free clinic in Whitley City.
Public polling has consistently shown the law is unpopular in Kentucky. Rep. Ken Upchurch, R-Monticello, who represents Wayne, McCreary and part of Pulaski County is in line with the polling.
He thinks the law will ultimately fail and questions its costs. He’s heard stories of people who now pay higher deductibles under the new law and of others who’ve lost coverage. As for those who are now insured for the first time, Upchurch said, “I’m glad they’ve got coverage, but I’m not sure what they’ve got now is much better than having nothing.”
Singleton said perception of the law changes when people who previously couldn’t afford health insurance see what it can do for them.
“They said, no we don’t have any way to pay for that, but when we showed them the income guide, many of them found out they didn’t have to pay,” Singleton said. “I haven’t seen anyone who’s been hurt by the law. I’ve seen nothing but good from it.”
She said many of the center’s clients for the first time can see specialists for chronic problems like heart disease and asthma and the number of patients at the free clinic has actually declined.
As of the last day of January, 1,320 people living in McCreary County had signed up for coverage under the new law, according to data from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Of those, most were eligible for Medicaid, 1,175. Of the remainder, 120 people bought a private insurance plan but qualified for subsidies or tax credits to help them pay for it and 25 more bought coverage without any financial assistance.
In all 195,502 Kentuckians, many of whom previously had no health insurance coverage, found some form of insurance: 151,342 through Medicaid and 44,160 through private health plans which meet the minimum requirements for coverage under the new law.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, last week called the law a “disaster,” and claimed 165,000 Kentuckians had lost insurance because of it. (Stivers said he got the number from the Department of Insurance but DOI says all 165,000 people were able to obtain insurance and none was forcibly denied coverage. See accompanying story.)
In Stivers’ 25th Senate District (Clay, Knox, Owsley, Whitley, and Wolfe counties) 7,913 people had signed up for coverage under the ACA by last Friday. More than 1,500 had enrolled in Stivers’ home county of Clay. More than 3,000 were enrolled in Whitley County.
Republicans at both the state level and in Washington want to repeal or limit the law if they gain control of both legislative chambers in the two capitols. (Democrats control the U.S. Senate and the Kentucky House of Representatives but Republicans believe they can win control of both in this year’s election.)
Asked what he would justify that to the 7,913 people who now have insurance coverage, Stivers posed his own question: “What do you say to those people who lost their insurance?”
Rep. Tommy Turner, R-Somerset, represents Pulaski County where 4,017 people signed up for coverage. He said some of the newly covered are deserving while others may not be, but he doesn’t think the law is going to be repealed.
“I think it’s here to stay whether we like it or not,” Turner said.
Here are some examples of enrollment in other Kentucky counties (all data are from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and as of Jan. 31):
Barren: 2,209; 1,509 Medicaid; 513 private plans with subsidy; 187 private plans, no subsidy;
Boyd: 2,351; 1,774 Medicaid; 376 private plans with subsidy; 201 private plans, no subsidy;
Carter: 1,835; 1,548 Medicaid; 244 private plan with subsidy; 43 private plan, no subsidy;
Greenup: 1,726; 1,348 Medicaid; 291 private plan with subsidy; 87 private plan, no subsidy;
Jefferson: 30,201; 22,995 Medicaid; 4,186 private plan with subsidy; 3,020 private plan, no subsidy;
Fayette: 10,959; 7,715 Medicaid; 1,689 private plan with subsidy; 1,555 private plan, no subsidy;
Laurel: 2,807; 2,150 Medicaid; 484 private plan with subsidy; 173 private plan, no subsidy;
Madison: 3,880; 928 Medicaid; 108 private plan with subsidy; 39 private plan, no subsidy;
Rowan: 1,413; 1,177 Medicaid; 183 private plan with subsidy; 53 private plan, no subsidy;
Wayne: 1,112; 929 Medicaid; 143 private plan with subsidy; 40 private plan, no subsidy;
Whitely: 3,067; 2,662 Medicaid; 300 private plan with subsidy; 105 private plan, no subsidy.