Will strong feelings about Obamacare influence Kentucky’s election?

In Kentucky there's a disconnect in public opinion for the Affordable Care Act versus the state's popular health exchange program. Special correspondent Renee Shaw of Kentucky Educational Television reports on how voter opinions of the president’s health care law stands to play a role in how they cast their ballots.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We now turn to campaign 2014 and an issue that has entered almost every Senate race in the nation: the new health care law.

    As part of our joint elections project with public broadcasters across the country, Renee Shaw of Kentucky Educational Television reports.

  • VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN:

    The yeas are 60. The nays are 39.

  • RENEE SHAW, Kentucky Educational Television:

    The 2009 Senate vote to pass the health care law, the vote that now five years later has launched 1,000 ads.

  • NARRATOR:

    Obamacare meant threatened insurance plans, higher premiums and broken promises.

  • ACTRESS:

    Obamacare doesn't work. It just doesn't work.

  • RENEE SHAW:

    This summer, the ads just didn't stop. Republicans attacked. Democrats responded, some defending.

  • MAN:

    That's why I helped pass a law that prevents insurance companies from canceling your policy if you get sick.

  • RENEE SHAW:

    Others pledging reforms.

  • WOMAN:

    I'm fixing it. And that's what my bill does.

  • WOMAN:

    They trust Mark Begich. He's trying to fix the health care law.

  • RENEE SHAW:

    It's certainly unpopular. A Kaiser Health poll in August and September showed some 47 percent view the Affordable Care Act unfavorably, just 35 percent favorably. It's less clear how much the law will matter on Election Day.

    In a unique position is Kentucky, a state where both the economy and health care poll as high issues and where the state's exchange under the health care law, called Kynect has a very different reputation than the law does when it's called Obamacare.

  • JOE GERTH, The Courier-Journal:

    When people are polled about Obamacare in Kentucky, they largely say, we don't like it, we don't think it's a good thing. But if you ask them about Kynect, it's completely opposite, they love it, it's a good program and it is helping people.

  • RENEE SHAW:

    Joe Gerth is the political recorder for The Courier-Journal in Louisville.

  • JOE GERTH:

    Some of the poorer counties in Kentucky are areas that vote very — very much in favor of Republicans. The jobs in some of these counties are quite often low-paying jobs, the sort of people who would have trouble getting health insurance on their own and now are benefiting from that.

  • RENEE SHAW:

    What explains the disconnect between the Affordable Care Act and Kynect, the state health benefit exchange program?

  • JOE GERTH:

    Five letters, O-B-A-M-A. You have to look at the polling on Obama. His favorability rating in Kentucky is somewhere around 29 percent. He's not liked. People don't like his policies. They don't like him personally. And that's played a huge roll in why Obamacare is viewed so negatively.

  • RENEE SHAW:

    The president has such little support in Kentucky that, in the 2012 primary, when the president ran unopposed, some 42 percent of registered Democrats in Kentucky voted for uncommitted, rather than the president. In the general election, Republican Mitt Romney took the state by 23 percentage points.

  • CHARLES HOWARD, Small Business Owner:

    I was born and raised a Democrat. I'm not now.

  • RENEE SHAW:

    For Charles Howard, health care and the health care reform law have become difficult issues. He and his wife own and operate Howard's Metal Sales in Chaplin, Kentucky, a metal siding and roofing operation with four employees and a contract worker. He believes Democrats no longer represent him.

  • CHARLES HOWARD:

    You're looking pretty good.

    Well, I'm a working man. And, as I have already explained to you, they're not exactly my party now, and that's why I have changed. But unlike some people who are Republicans, I wanted to believe what then Senator Obama was saying about having an affordable health care act that worked for everyone.

  • RENEE SHAW:

    According to a recent Bluegrass poll conducted by four media outlets in the state, jobs and the economy ranked the highest in the minds of likely Kentucky voters, but Howard says a big part of the job equation for him is the cost of health care.

    As an example, he says the bill to insure just one of his employees, a 51-year-old man, has increased $125 a month, and he blames Obamacare.

  • CHARLES HOWARD:

    Well, wages are going up for me because if he went from $300 two years ago to $425, they haven't went up in his check, but they have went up out of our payroll, out of our expenses. So how do you give someone a price increase or a wage increase, I should say, when you're having to be hit with those increases in insurance that he needs?

    I would just hope people who can say the Affordable Health Care Act has worked for me and my health insurance costs have went down exponentially, that they will realize that someone is paying that. Nothing is free.

  • RENEE SHAW:

    And as a taxpayer and as a business owner, you're saying you're picking up the tab.

  • CHARLES HOWARD:

    Yes, ma'am. And how long can taxpayers and small business owners be the packhorse of the society at large?

  • RENEE SHAW:

    Kendell Nash had a small nonprofit in Louisville that doesn't offer health benefits. For her, the Affordable Care Act is the key issue affecting her vote and her support of Democrats this election.

  • KENDELL NASH, Working Mom:

    I think the biggest thing that we should be focusing on is the health care and how it's going to affect Kentucky, is the Affordable Health Care Act and how it's going to affect Kentucky depending on which candidate is in office.

  • RENEE SHAW:

    For Nash and her husband and son, Obamacare has meant financial stability. Her son has hearing loss and, before the new law, health insurance cost her family double what it does now.

  • KENDELL NASH:

    It literally meant that my husband was working between 30 and 40 hours a week and coming home without a paycheck, because all of the money right back to pay our health care.

  • RENEE SHAW:

    Nash says she's frightened by the prospect of losing affordable health care.

  • KENDELL NASH:

    If it were repealed, and we went back to the status quo, my family would essentially lose $7,000 from this year to the next. And it's just really difficult to think about folks who are now insured for the first time ever. They would go back to having nothing. And we would have lower health outcomes and our communities that are devastated by poor health outcomes would continue to spiral.

  • RENEE SHAW:

    Kentucky is full of strong feelings on the health care law, but it's not clear how much those will affect the election. Like much of the nation, the state is getting ready for the next round of open enrollment on its health care exchange. That will be the next test of the health care law here. Enrollment starts two weeks after the midterm election.

    I'm Renee Shaw with KET.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And I will be in Kentucky next weekend to cover their Senate race.

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