COLUMBIA — A blow to the knee meant more than pain and discomfort for law student Katherine Sheffield— it meant $3,000 in medical bills, not including a future surgery.
Because of the Affordable Care Act, Sheffield, 24, will be covered under her stepfather’s insurance plan until she's 26. Before the health care act, young people could be removed from their parents’ insurance plans as early as 19.
“The actual (cost of) surgery will be outrageous,” Sheffield said. “So yeah, as an indebted 24-year-old, I’m pretty darn thankful for insurance.”
Sheffield said health care will be on her mind when she goes to the polls Tuesday.
Health care is a hot-button issue this election season, with most discussions focusing on the Affordable Care Act. When asked how large a role health care would play at the polls on Nov. 6, Columbia residents had a variety of responses.
Nationally, health care is ranked second — after jobs and the economy in the top spot — on the list of issues that would influence people's voting decision, according to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health.
That's the highest health care has ranked as a presidential election issue since 1992, according to researchers.
People — like Sheffield — who have experienced health problems recently tend to view health care as a decisive issue.
Kim Coleman, 60, had to make sure that either she or her husband had a job that provided family insurance in order to avoid being denied coverage due to the couple’s cancer history. Their son has multiple sclerosis and is on Medicaid.
A provision put in place in July 2010 under the Affordable Care Act provides insurance coverage options for people who have been uninsured for at least six months due to pre-existing conditions. In 2014, discrimination against pre-existing conditions will be prohibited under the health care act. Coleman heard about the plan but has not been directly affected by it because she is covered on her husband’s work plan.
Her experiences, however, have played a part in her voting decision.
“The whole thought that repealing 'Obamacare' would solve anything is the wrong kind of attitude,” Coleman said. “We’re the only civilized country in the world that doesn’t have a health care plan for everyone.”
She said people with insurance coverage may not understand what it is like to not have it.
“My son doesn’t want to be on Medicaid; he has to,” Coleman said. “It may not be an ideal plan, but at least something is being done.”
For this reason among others, Coleman and her husband are voting for President Barack Obama.
While health care will play a large role in the voting decision of Andrew Fortner, 32, he's voting for Mitt Romney. Fortner has served in the Army for 17 years. Because of his service, he and his family are covered under TRICARE and insurance through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Fortner's son has respiratory problems and his medication is covered under TRICARE. Fortner believes that under the Affordable Care Act, he and his family will lose their TRICARE coverage.
"We will lose all of our benefits that we have worked for and deserve," he said.
According to healthcare.gov, the Affordable Care Act will not change the TRICARE benefits a family may receive, but Obama's 2013 budget proposes new TRICARE increases in co-pays and fees, to reduce costs for the Department of Defense.
A national perspective
Between November 2009 and September 2012, polls showed that a majority of people opposed repealing the Affordable Care Act. Voters began to express a lack of support for the health care act in the spring, but polls swung in the opposite direction after the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the act on June 28.
Nevertheless, a Washington Post poll published July 16 found that 52 percent of respondents disapproved of the way the president was handling health care.
When it came to which candidate voters thought would do a better job overall, the polls were virtually divided with 46 percent for Obama and 45 percent for Romney.
For some Columbia residents, issues such as jobs and the economy were higher on their list of reasons to vote for one candidate or another.
The economy is the No. 1 issue that will influence the voting decision of Ramona Morse, 34. "Because it directly affects me," she said. "I don't have many health issues."
Nancy Thomas, 62, says health care is second on the list of factors influencing her vote, behind the economy. She said the health care plans of each candidate don’t play a huge role because she already knows who she is voting for.
“Things have gotten so bad I can’t see why anyone would vote for Obama again,” Thomas said.
For John Taylor, 40, jobs are at the top of the list for influential factors at the polls. Currently unemployed, Taylor is looking at how candidates plan to create jobs and reduce unemployment. He said that health care goes hand-in-hand with job creation.
Financial situations influence voting
Courtney Thorndyke, 20, has a 2-year-old son, Haiden, who is on Medicare. She is worried that if Romney wins, he will do away with most state assistance or drop it to bare minimum.
Thorndyke hasn't always followed politics but said this year she's paying attention because she is old enough to vote, and she doesn’t like Romney’s health care plan.
“If Romney wins, no one will have anything because he is more for the rich,” she said.
Adrian Schaefer, 21, said health care will probably play a big role in his voting decisions. He grew up with Medicare, and without it his family wouldn’t have been able to pay for things, he said.
"Since they aren't increasing minimum wage, they need to help people especially in the hurting economy," he said.
Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.