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This Trump voter didn't think Trump was serious about repealing her health insurance

Kathy Oller renewing Debbie Mills' Obamacare coverage. Byrd Pinkerton/Vox

CORBIN, Kentucky — Why would people vote for a presidential candidate who campaigned on taking away their health insurance?

Last week, we went to Corbin, Kentucky, to try to answer that question. It’s a small city in southeastern Kentucky, an area of the country that has seen huge declines in its uninsured rate — but also voted overwhelmingly for Trump.

You can read more about what we learned there in this story, but we also wanted to give you the transcripts of the conversations we had so the people we talked to could speak for themselves.

Debbie Mills is a 53-year-old furniture store owner in Bell County, an area of the state right on the Tennessee border. Earlier this year, doctors discovered that her husband has non-alcoholic cirrhosis. He now needs a transplant if he’s going to survive. Mills and her husband keep a bag packed, waiting for the doctors to call with news that a liver is available.

This all means that Mills really, really needs her health insurance. And she’s very grateful for the Affordable Care Act, because she couldn’t afford insurance before it was passed.

And yet she voted for Donald Trump. Until we spoke, she said she hadn’t taken Trump’s repeal threats seriously. As we talked, she started to process what his election might mean for her family’s future.

Here’s that conversation, edited for clarity and length.

Sarah Kliff

Can you walk through what your experience has been with Healthcare.gov?

Debbie Mills

The insurance we had before, we ended up paying about $1,200 a month for a family of five. It just kept going up each year.

So we ended up dropping it.

We didn't have health insurance. And we went for maybe two years with no insurance until this came out. We really didn't go to the doctor because it cost too much.

So for the past two years, we had the Healthcare.gov. It's made it affordable.

My husband ended up getting sick this year. He has non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver.

He's lost all this weight and all this muscle tone. Some people don't recognize him that he's known for years until he speaks and they recognize his voice.

But it's been great to have health insurance, because I couldn't imagine what it would be like to not have it with all the treatments and things that he's had to have done.

When we didn't have health insurance, we didn't go and get blood work and all that stuff done to be checked to see, you know, how his liver was doing.

He was taking medicines that could damage the liver for the cholesterol and all that stuff. But because it costs so much to get blood work done … [the doctor] wanted it done every three months, and he would do it maybe once a year.

Byrd Pinkerton

So just to be clear, he only got it once a year during the years that you didn't have—

Debbie Mills

Have insurance. Yes. Yeah.

So like I said, we didn't go get it done, and so now he is very sick.

Sarah Kliff

So what do you think about Obamacare as a law? I know it's not especially popular.

Debbie Mills

I have liked the fact that it gave us health insurance, you know, and I know some have not. Some have not been wanting to be forced to have it. But other ones, I know it has helped. I know a lot of people that have gotten it that did not have health insurance before.

Sarah Kliff

Did it change your opinion of President Obama at all? I know nothing about your politics at all, but if you did like him—

Debbie Mills

I’m not really a fan of his policies, but I like the fact that he gave me health insurance. And I have been worried about the fact that, you know, is it going to go away because, like I said, we're in a situation now where I can't afford to pay $1,200 a month. And I can't go without insurance because he has to have it in order, you know … a transplant could be a million dollars.

Sarah Kliff

Did you vote in the election this year?

Debbie Mills

Yes.

Sarah Kliff

And do you mind telling us who you supported?

Debbie Mills

We voted for Trump.

Sarah Kliff

So how did you decide to vote for him, since he's one of the people promising to repeal Obamacare?

Debbie Mills

Well … we liked him because he just seemed to be a businessman.

We're in a small, rural area where there's not a lot of businesses right now going on, and so we can't really have anything else shut down, because it affects everybody.

We were in an area where there's lots of coal. And so we don't work in the coal mines, but … one job affects this job and affects this job. If they're not working, they're not grocery shopping, they're not going and buying furniture, they're not buying clothes, they're not doing anything.

We're more or less sort of a general store. We sell a little bit of everything. But the coal miners are not able to purchase anything.

Christmas is a lot different than what it used to be because they were getting their Christmas bonuses. And they would come and they would buy the TVs and the recliners and they would redo the whole kitchen and do new dining room tables for the family Christmas or Thanksgiving or whatever. And now it's not like that.

Byrd Pinkerton

Leading up to November 8, were you weighing the pros and cons of each candidate? Did you talk about Trump's position on the Affordable Care Act at all?

Debbie Mills

We would watch the debates and stuff every night. But we didn't really talk about the health care that much, even though it now is a major player in our life.

Sarah Kliff

Are you surprised how much Republicans are talking about repeal?

Debbie Mills

No.

Sarah Kliff

Did you expect — do you think they'll do it, or do you think it'll be too hard?

Debbie Mills

I'm hoping that they don't, ’cause, I mean, what would they do then? Would this go away? I mean, I mean, will the insurance? It will go away?

Sarah Kliff

It will go, if they repeal it. I mean, it’ll … that's what they promised to do in so many elections.

Debbie Mills

Right, so, I don't know … I don't know what we'll do if it does go away.

Sarah Kliff

Do you think if it does go away, you'll regret your vote in any way? Thinking, “I voted for this person who took away my health insurance.” Or … it's like, that's one of so many things, like you said, jobs, the economy?

Debbie Mills

I don't know. I guess I thought that, you know, he would not do this. That they would not do this, would not take the insurance away. Knowing that it's affecting so many people’s lives. I mean, what are you to do then if you cannot … purchase, cannot pay for the insurance?

You know, what are we to do?

So I don't know. Maybe he's thinking about, you know, the little people that are not making the big money, like what they make in New York and Washington and all the places that, you know, this is not, you know, something — this is people’s lives that's being affected.

Byrd Pinkerton

Yeah. Going into it, did you hear him talking about his health care promises, or was it not something that came up in his ads or debates for you?

Debbie Mills

Um, no, I guess we really didn't think about that, that he was going to cancel that or change that or take it away. I guess I always just thought that it would be there. I was thinking that once it was made into a law that it could not be changed, but I guess it can? Yes?

Sarah Kliff

It can be changed.

Debbie Mills

Okay.

Sarah Kliff

Did you feel like you heard them talking about Obamacare repeal in the campaign?

Debbie Mills

Well, we did hear him talking about it some, that he was going to, but like I said, I always just thought that he was, if he changed it, it would be that it would be some other form of health insurance that he would have.

Sarah Kliff

No, I totally understand. During the debates, Trump was the one saying, “I'm going to cover everybody.”

Debbie Mills

I don't know. I guess the next four years is going to be different. I don't know what to look for. 

You're scaring me now, on the insurance part.

’Cause I have been in a panic, so I'm afraid now that the insurance is going to go away and we're going to be up a creek.


Watch: Repealing Obamacare could change millions of lives

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