Health care debate in Kentucky is about people, not politics

A sign denouncing healthcare reform at a Take Back the House rally in Louisville, Kentucky. By Gage Skidmore via Flickr. CC license.

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned to Peachill, as Kentucky journalist Sarah Kelley examines what’s at stake in the Bluegrass State, and how approval of changes to Kentucky’s Medicaid program will likely lay the groundwork for other states to follow.

By Sarah Kelley

The saga of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act in Kentucky and the proposal to overhaul the program is rooted in politics. But in digging deeper, it’s clear the crux of the story is the people whose lives will be impacted.

While most people are focused on congressional efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the fight is going to move quickly in the states, and Kentucky is on the front lines. Nearly 100,000 Kentuckians could lose their health insurance over the next five years if the Trump administration approves Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed Medicaid changes, which include strict work requirements and monthly premium payments.

In recent weeks, I heard the stories of dozens of folks who gained insurance when Kentucky’s previous governor — Democrat Steve Beshear—expanded Medicaid under the ACA. The program now insures nearly one-third of Kentucky’s population and covers a wide swath of demographics.

Though their personal circumstances vary wildly, the recipients I interviewed overwhelmingly agreed that Medicaid has vastly improved their overall health and quality of life:

  • Tim, who is homeless, is scheduled to undergo a CT scan to determine why it’s becoming increasingly difficult for him to walk.
  • Emilee is a full-time student — the first in her family to go to college — who also cares for her grandmother.
  • Leigh is unable to work due to high blood pressure, and her husband is self-employed.

All rely on Medicaid, and all worry about the repercussions of Gov. Bevin’s proposed changes.

Health advocates are worried, too. They agree that if the Trump administration approves Kentucky’s request, it will open the floodgates for more states to chip away at Medicaid expansion — a cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act.

Stay tuned: my full story on Kentucky’s dismantling of their Medicaid program will be posted here in the coming days!

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