Whitesburg, Kentucky, is a quiet town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains and close to the Virginia border – coal country. It has a population of 2,100 and a deep history of hard work and perseverance.
“Around here you keep a job and you do as they say no matter what because you’ve got to work to survive,” said Mike Taylor, a former coal truck driver.
Coal has been at the heart of the local economy for generations, but it’s also the root of health issues for many.
Taylor was diagnosed with “Black Lung,” a deadly lung disease caused by breathing in coal dust, in 2015. He is on three different inhalers and uses an oxygen tank and a nebulizer machine.
When he gained insurance through the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, he began seeking regular care at Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation, a community clinic where his physician, Dr. Van Breeding, also happens to be his old high school classmate.
“These people need care,” said Breeding, a primary care physician. “I take care of classmates of mine everyday … people who I went to kindergarten with who are disabled now, who can’t work. So imagine you’re 55 years old and you’re worn out.”
“And these are the people who have been helped by the Affordable Care Act and these are the people who we can’t turn our backs on,” he added.
Breeding believes the ACA is crucial to the health of his community. His father was a coal miner, he said, so he is all too familiar with the toll Black Lung disease can take.
“We're seeing that it's a political war over health care and the collateral damage is the patient's health and life and the quality of life,” Breeding said. “Change the name if ‘Obamacare’ is offensive to Republicans, change the name, and call it what you will, but provide these people who are desperate, and I mean desperate, desperate for some type of health care.”
Taylor said the health insurance he has under ACA not only saved his life, but also helped his brother-in-law and his former coworkers.
“It’s a good thing to have it. The insurance,” he said. “I think they just need to reform it.”
But as I keep saying, these people voted for Republicans up and down the line, at the state level last year when they elected Matt Bevin in 2015, and again last year handing the state legislature over to the GOP and decimating the Democrats, re-electing Rand Paul, and giving Trump a 17-point win.
Now all of a sudden they're worried that when Obamacare was going to be repealed, it was going to affect them. They never thought that would happen, that it would only be taken away from those people in order to benefit people like themselves, because they're good people.
Turns out of course Republicans only care about people making six figures or more. Turns out when Bevin turns Medicaid into a program like Indiana's "skin in the game" plan where you pay the premium or lose everything, and on top of that funding is cut to shreds by Republicans in Congress turning it into a block grant, not only will the 450,000 people who got health insurance lose it, but hundreds of thousands more will get kicked off the program too.
Maybe by 2020 when the state's uninsured rate is back up to 25% or so, maybe people here will get it.