There have been no marches against the Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare here. No raucous town halls. There was only one protest rally anywhere in the region. Photographs captured a solitary woman holding a sign.
In an area that stands to lose a lot of health coverage under the GOP's American Health Care Act, the silence does not equal endorsement. It is a sign, instead, of disappointment setting in among a group of conservative voters who only months ago were bubbling with hope for Donald Trump's health care plan.
The uninsured rate here in this rural swath of southeastern Kentucky has plummeted faster under the Affordable Care Act than any other area in the country. I visited the area last winter and talked to Obamacare enrollees who voted for Trump. They expected the president to repeal the law and replace it with something much better. "That man has a head for business," one enrollee told me. "He will absolutely do his best to change things."
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I went back this spring just after the House passed the AHCA, the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare that would cause 23 million fewer Americans to have health coverage, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates. The optimism was gone. Resignation had replaced it.
"You know, thinking about it, I'm not even sure what I expected. I just thought it would miraculously work out wonderful for everybody," Bobbi Smith, a 62-year-old Obamacare enrollee who voted for Trump, says. "So I guess maybe I didn't put enough thought into what I would expect from a health care act."
The souring on the Republican bill in a deep-red area of the country reflects the AHCA's profound unpopularity nationwide. But the lack of protest also shows the strength of partisanship in the United States, which could prove a protective shield for Republican legislators in the 2018 midterms.
In southeastern Kentucky, the Obamacare enrollees I interviewed were disappointed — but they also weren't mad that their Congress member, Hal Rogers, voted to pass it. They talked about all the other good things he had done for the area in his decades of service. They gave him the benefit of the doubt, expecting that he must have cast his vote to improve the economy or solve a budget issue.
This includes Kathy Oller, an Obamacare enrollment worker who supported Trump in the 2016 election. She feels let down by the Republican health care plan — "If they take the expanded Medicaid away, it really, really is gonna kill Kentuckians because they won't have health insurance," she says — and she's already seeing other ways that Trump health policies are hurting Kentucky. Obamacare sign-ups, she said, were slower this year, as people in Kentucky were confused about whether the health care law still existed.
But Oller doesn't regret her vote for Trump — "I don't have regrets," she says plainly — and she trusts that Rogers, whom she has also voted for, knows what he's doing. She gets most her news from his weekly emails to constituents; she cites his arguments for why the law needs to be repealed.
This sentiment felt ubiquitous in Corbin. Obamacare enrollees I interviewed didn't like the Republican plan, but they still trusted the Republican Party to do the right thing on health care.
They felt like they had picked a side, and now they were going to stick with it.