Whitesburg KY

County would lose at least 100 jobs if health act is killed

Repealing the Affordable Care Act, commonly called ObamaCare, without replacing it could cost more than 45,000 jobs in Kentucky, according to one study, and at least 100 from a single health care company in eastern Kentucky, the CEO of the company said.

But that’s precisely what Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin is urging Congress to do.

Bevin wrote a letter to House Republicans on January 6, saying Congress should replace the “cumbersome, one-size-fits-all” law completely, and allow the states to do what they see fit with health insurance.

“Congress should repeal the ACA in its entirety and permit Kentucky to return to regulating the health insurance market under its existing state authority,” Bevin said in his letter.

A study conducted by George Washington University’s Milkin School of Public Health and released one day before the date of Bevin’s letter says the state stands to lose 45,000 jobs in 2019 alone, and $22.9 billion in gross state product, if the ACA is repealed. Nationwide, the study estimates a loss of 3 million jobs.

Mike Caudill, CEO of Whitesburgbased Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation, which operates eight primary care clinics and 13 school clinics in five of eastern Kentucky’s poorest counties, said repeal has the potential to cause major job losses in the organization, depending on what Congress does to replace it.

“The problem is, we don’t know what that’s going to be,” he said. “It could be just a name change, or it could be a complete dismemberment.”

MCHC operates clinics in Letcher, Perry, Harlan, Bell, and Owsley counties. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Owsley and Bell have the third and fourth lowest median household incomes in the United States. Harlan has the 26th lowest median household income, and Letcher, where MCHC is headquartered in the county seat of Whitesburg, has the 95th lowest in the country.

Caudill said the nonprofit MCHC has added about 100 jobs in its clinics in those counties since the ACA began.

“The bulk of those are in Whitesburg,” Caudill said.

More jobs were about to be added in Cumberland in Harlan County, where MCHC is completing construction of another new clinic. And the healthcare company also purchased the old Whitesburg High School and were in the process of renovating it into office space.

“Immediately, our plans would be to move our administrative and billing up there so we could renovate our existing space into more clinic space, which would also mean more jobs,” Caudill said.

That work will be temporarily placed on hold until it’s clear what Congress plans to do. Bevin has also submitted a Medicaid waiver request to the federal government that Caudill described as “drastic.” Among other provisions in the proposed waiver are the removal of vision and dental benefits and the addition of monthly premiums for coverage.

Caudill said MCHC just added optometry to clinics in Whitesburg and Harlan, and was planning to add it to the clinic in Owsley County. It had also added dentistry to one clinic and expanded to include a second dentist and support staff in Whitesburg.

Most of the things it has done were a direct result from an estimated 5,000 new patients added because of the ACA.

“ We have had some grants that paid for part of it, but most of it has been paid for by added revenue from the ACA,” Caudill said.

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