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Kentucky Residents Express Dissatisfaction With GOP Efforts To Dismantle Obamacare

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

One explanation that we're hearing for why the Senate's health care bill failed is that it's hard to take benefits away from people once they get them. That's the case in Kentucky, home of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Many residents there got coverage under the Affordable Care Act even as they voted for politicians promising to get rid of it. Kentucky Public Radio's Ryland Barton has been talking with Kentuckians about Republican efforts to ditch Obamacare.

RYLAND BARTON, BYLINE: 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.

DAVID CAUDILL: Because I'm on some heart medicine that can make my heart slow down. I couldn't afford my medicine. I'll say it's very, very high. I'd probably just lay down and die somewhere.

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

CAUDILL: I don't think it's good. It ain't good for nobody.

BARTON: 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.

SHILEKA HILL: I think it's just a bunch of crock because I feel like you're - they're trying to take the health care away so they can do like I said because 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?

BARTON: Kentucky's U.S. Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul have been two of Obamacare's most vocal opponents. Paul has pushed for an all-out repeal of the program while McConnell attempted to preserve aspects of the law in the bills that have stalled in Congress. But now that the most recent Obamacare replacement bill has failed, McConnell says he's also in favor of an all-out repeal. Richard Ellison, a draftsman from Lexington, says that's not the right way to go.

RICHARD ELLISON: No, I don't agree with that. I'm a dead-set Republican, and I don't agree with it. You've got to have a contingency plan. You can't just kill it.

BARTON: 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 health care.

RICK HARTLEY: They all play partisan politics. They're more interested in getting re-elected than they are with doing what they were sent there for, which was to take care of the American people.

BARTON: As for how he thinks Kentucky's senators have been handling health care, he praises Mitch McConnell for trying to get something done and says Rand Paul is too extreme.

HARTLEY: I don't know 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.

BARTON: 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. For NPR News, I'm Ryland Barton in Lexington, Ky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.