FRANKFORT — Jane Harrod knows where she wants to be when her time comes, right where she is happiest now.
“I just want to die out behind the plow and compost myself right there,” she says without a hint of irony or jest.
Harrod, 64, of Lawrenceburg, is a fiercely independent farmer and landscaper who also operate a greenhouse. Divorced and the mother of two adult daughters, Harrod and two brothers farm land inherited from their parents near Clay’s Ferry in Fayette County, raising cattle and trying to raise industrial hemp.
“They pay the expenses — that’s their job,” Harrod says, smiling and speaking of the cows, not her brothers.
But they make little money from the farm.
Most of the tillable acreage was taken for an interchange for I-75 and their mother also sold off part of the farm to pay the costs of chemotherapy before her death. What remains isn’t as profitable.
So Harrod works other jobs, landscaping for private homeowners and businesses. But work is nothing new: she began working at 14 and has never stopped — except after a farm accident left her with a detached retina.
She’d always been healthy. Physically active, she’s never smoked and rarely drinks alcohol. She raises her own food and eats a healthy diet.
But she had no insurance.
There was no time to try to get insured — she had to have emergency eye surgery within 48 hours in order or risk blindness in the eye.
With the help of the state Office of the Blind, Harrod found a surgeon who performed the surgery at a discounted price that she ultimately paid out of her pocket.
But a side effect of such surgery is often the development of a cataract, and Harrod couldn’t afford that surgery.
“It’s hard trying to deal with landscaping and farming when you have vision problems,” Harrod said. “You’re always on rough ground or around livestock and I realized I was going to get myself hurt.”
At the same time, her partner’s mother who was 96 had to undergo an emergency appendectomy. Afterward, she moved in with them, and Harrod had to care for her. Suddenly, she had little income.
Eventually they found someone to care for the elderly woman during the day, and Harrod went looking for insurance at a time before Gov. Matt Bevin shut down the state health exchange where people could purchase individual health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
She found a plan which after federal subsidies cost her about $100 a month. But the doctor who performed her retinal surgery doesn’t do cataract surgery, so she had to pay standard fees and a high deductible for the cataract surgery.
She signed up for Social Security, but because she has always been self-employed and was previously married to a teacher (teachers don’t participate in Social Security), her monthly check is just over $500.
Between the added expenses of caring for her partner’s mother and her reduced workload her income fell enough that in January of this year she qualified for the expanded Medicaid coverage that is also part of the Affordable Care Act.
Now Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin seeks a federal waiver to charge premiums and deductibles for Medicaid as the Republican Congress looks for ways to repeal the ACA. One Republican replacement plan would cut more than $800 billion from Medicaid.
Harrod will turn 65 this summer and can enroll in Medicare, but she worries about what will happen to others who find themselves in difficult circumstances because of health problems or age.
The Kentucky Center for Economic Policy estimates a third of Kentucky’s Medicaid enrollees will lose coverage if Medicaid is rolled back by the Republican alternative to “Obamacare.”
The Republican plan would also allow states to substitute high-risk pools for subsidized health premiums for people with pre-existing conditions. The House passed measure provides $13 billion over 10 years to help finance such pools but the Kaiser Foundation estimates the real cost closer to $25 billion.
And it would allow insurance companies to charge those with pre-existing conditions much higher premiums. Kaiser estimates Kentuckians with pre-existing conditions would pay 75 percent more in health insurance premiums, according to a report by CNHI News’ Washington correspondent Kery Murakami.
The Modern Medicaid Alliance — a collaborative effort of groups like America’s Health Insurance Plans, Association of Community Cancer Centers, Children’s Hospital Association, National Alliance on Mental Health and others — contends expanded Medicaid actually saves taxpayers money and helps people keep working.
Without the subsidized health insurance and later Medicaid coverage, Harrod said, “I would have had to apply for disability and the state would have had to pay more.”