Three in four Kentuckians are worried about affording health care, according to a new statewide poll that also found dissatisfaction with the current health-care system on both sides of the political aisle. More than 90% of surveyed Kentuckians said they support expanding health-insurance options so that everyone can afford quality coverage.
Terri Bates, a single mother of two in Frankfort, said she had to file for bankruptcy because of medical debt after needing emergency surgery and not being covered.
"It was very stressful," she said. "I had credit agencies calling me all the time, hospitals saying they needed a payment or they were going to take me to court and sue me, and it was nonstop."
Bates said she's working on building her credit again and is no longer in debt, but the experience has made her wary of going to the doctor. Some 30% of survey respondents said they are delaying a doctor's visit. Six in 10 described themselves as "anxious or very worried" about affording treatment for severe COVID-19 illness.
For years, said Richard Seckel, director of the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, legal-aid offices across the Commonwealth have seen families crushed by debt to the point of bankruptcy. He said he believes the pandemic is highlighting long-standing weaknesses in the health-care system.
"We've made great progress on expanding coverage for folks in Kentucky and getting people signed up, but it's startling the degree to which people still feel insecure about health care," he said. "It's clear that we can't really have a thriving economy until we make health care something you can count on."
Lexington resident Allison Crawford had abdominal pain for more than a year before she could schedule the diagnostic surgery she needed. Working three jobs, she said, she made too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford a high-quality insurance plan. Crawford delayed her procedure until she found a full-time job with benefits.
"I think people who don't want health insurance to be provided to everyone, whether or not you have a job — health insurance not tied to a job — I think those people just have never had an experience where it was life or death or facing a lower quality of life," she said.
So far, more than 233,000 Kentuckians have lost employer-sponsored health insurance after losing their job. More than a half-million state unemployment claims have been filed since the pandemic began.
The survey is available online at healthcarevaluehub.org.