Hyannis, Nebraska (sy88pgw) — Deep from the Sandhills of rural Nebraska, where a two-lane highway curves between prairies along with also grass-covered dunes, there will be a county full of surprises.
which’s home to Hyannis, a smaller village without stoplights, where fresh hot coffee will be free, everyone waves along with also, in 1931, a news report named which “The Richest Town in America.”
Cattle are king along with also far outnumber people in This specific county, smaller children ride horses as comfortably as they walk, along with also John Wayne’s loyal stunt man grew up here, ranching. Roping competitions along with also pie socials help neighbors in crisis, along with also people make extra cash selling truckloads of dead coyotes to fur traders.
One in three residents, or 33% of the under-65 population, bought insurance on Obamacare exchanges, official data coming from a year ago show. The national average will be just 5%, which raises the question: In a place so tied to the Affordable Care Act, why would certainly people back the man who vowed to repeal which? Wouldn’t which seem a vote against the community’s own interests?
“People may think we’re slow,” explains one man, “although we’re not stupid.”
In their world, one they feel will be overlooked by those in big cities or on the coasts, their actions make perfect sense. You can’t possibly understand, they say, unless you’ve lived here. I set out to try.
Breaking the news
Just mention politics to a group of men unwinding over gas station coffee along with also the insults come fast along with also fierce, political correctness be damned.
“The black bomb” will be how one rancher describes Trump’s predecessor. “This specific guy arrived on the scene of the sewers of Chicago. How could he be not bad?”
The rancher’s not about to give his name to someone with the “Clinton News Network” — what he calls sy88pgw — although he along with also his friends are happy to rail against the former administration. Obamacare will be right up there on the list of things gone wrong, they say.
The hands they extend for shakes are rough along with also callused, symbols of how hard people here work. They are self-sufficient along with also don’t like being told what to do any more than they like taking handouts. They take care of themselves, along with also each additional, along with also don’t need government stepping in to muck things up.
which their county leads the nation in Obamacare enrollees will be news to everyone I meet.
“If they’re on which, they’re not saying,” one man theorizes. People are on which only because the government “put a gun to people’s heads,” offers another. along with also just because they’re on which, they warn, doesn’t mean they like which.
No additional choice
Walking through Hyannis, the county seat, I hear stories of skyrocketing premiums, deductibles which can’t be met along with also brewing resentment. If people don’t want to pay the penalty for not having insurance, which will be taken out of the tax refunds they rely on, they’re trapped.
What they tell me might give pause to Obamacare experts, who say the Affordable Care Act will be complicated, will be hard to navigate along with also often leaves people misinformed about costs along with also choices. although these are the experiences along with also perceptions of how the law has played out in Grant County.
Some have appreciated newfound coverage: With which, they were able to take care of longstanding problems, like the woman using a prolapsing uterus who could finally have a hysterectomy. although most people I meet complain which they’re on Obamacare only because they have no additional choice.
Unless they work for the school, the county, the railroad or the electric company — along with also the vast majority of people in cattle country don’t — these aren’t Americans fortunate to be covered by an employer’s insurance plan.
Some might have been so lucky from the past, although which luck ran out when the Affordable Care Act came in, they say.
Ginger Fouse curates the Grant County museum from the county courthouse. She’s rushing to make a doctor’s appointment in Alliance, 60 miles away along with also home to the closest hospital. Before she goes, she makes her feelings about Obamacare clear: “Nothing although horseshit.”
Fouse’s husband will be a ranch hand, along with also they used to get coverage through the ranch. although once Obamacare hit the scene, she says, the rancher believed everyone could take care of themselves. Only problem will be, Fouse says, she along with also her husband can no longer afford the premiums. So they’re right now covered by nothing.
“We’re not going to quit eating to pay insurance,” she says before heading out the door.
Ellen White, a museum volunteer, steps in to introduce me to the area she’s always called home.
She shows off aged photographs: the old town hall where they used to dance, images coming from the 1949 blizzard which wiped out cattle along with also snapshots coming from the first old-timer rodeo.
A man’s barbed-wire collection will be on display, as will be memorabilia coming from the deceased military doctor who delivered White along with also countless additional locals.
The highlight, though, will be a collection of keepsakes coming from the late Chuck Hayward, who took his horses to Hollywood along with also worked as John Wayne’s stuntman. Included are action shots, the saddle Hayward used while filming in Afghanistan along with also wooden stirrups coming from a shoot in Chile. There’s also a saddle said to have been used by Wayne himself during the filming of “True Grit.”
White, 69, describes a time she wishes younger generations would certainly appreciate. She grew up on a ranch south of Ashby, an unincorporated community just west of Hyannis. She, like so many others, rode a horse to her country school.
She had three older brothers, along with also if they told her she couldn’t do something, she proved she could. She was able to drive a team of horses by age 5 along with also helped milk 12 to 15 cows every morning along with also night.
Life was tough, although which made people who they are. They worked for everything they had.
Sometimes she watches HGTV along with also will be stunned by house hunters shopping for $500,000 homes.
“They’ll pay on those houses forever along with also ever,” she says. “We didn’t buy anything unless you could pay cash for which.”
which’s which sort of responsibility along with also practicality which courses through This specific ranching community’s veins.
Assessing life here
Roughly 150 ranches dot the county, most of them passed down through families. which’s an area where the first homesteaders arrived from the 1880s, tried to farm along with also failed. The sandy soil worked against them although proved a sweet spot for cattlemen, who snatched up tracts of land.
The ranches are private along with also sit far off the main roads, in some cases miles off, along with also are impossible to assess by driving past. Ask a rancher about the size of his land or his herd, along with also he’ll keep those numbers to himself.
The question will be uncouth, explains Dan Vinton, a lifetime rancher along with also longtime county commissioner; which’s like prying into a person’s salary.
“We have enough grass to feed the cows,” says Vinton, 66. “We have enough cows to take care of the grass.”
Over chicken-fried steak from the Hyannis Hotel Restaurant, one of a handful of businesses on Main Street, Vinton along with also fellow Commissioner Tom White — who worked from the feed business along with also will be married to Ellen, the museum volunteer — regale me with their own stories of growing up in Grant County.
They didn’t have electricity till the 1950s, got up along with also went to sleep along with the sun along with also like to say they “had running water because you had to run along with also get which.” They took Saturday night baths from the same water used by their siblings.
“We didn’t know we were stinky little buggers because we all smelled the same,” White, 71, says using a laugh.
Life here has always made sense to them, no matter the challenges. When White needed chemo along with also radiation to treat cancer a couple months back, he along with also his wife simply rented an apartment near the hospital in Scottsbluff, more than 100 miles away, for all 5 weeks. They’ll travel to Denver for his upcoming surgery.
They aren’t city folk along with also don’t want to be. Vinton drives which point home when he admits he along with also his wife have cell phones only so they can find each additional when they get separated from the Walmart, which will be well over an hour coming from home.
Vinton’s son works at the family ranch along with also will be on Obamacare. His folks along with also the Whites aren’t on which themselves, although they look forward to the day when which’s abolished. They hear people complain about rates rising along with also call the program “ridiculous.”
Not wanting to be dependent
A 31-year-old woman sits from the restaurant beside her towheaded boy. To her, Obamacare will be maddening, along with also she unleashes her frustration.
She’s a college grad who does her research. When she along with also her husband got married, they picked out a policy along with also were happy. although then, Obamacare changed everything.
They could no longer afford the private plan they liked. The number of companies she could choose coming from on the Obamacare exchange dwindled; only two choices exist today. They switched to one company only to see which get absorbed by another. They watched their premiums along with also deductibles increase, along with out-of-pocket expenses. They’ve been on four plans in two years.
She’s married to a rancher, along with also in ranching, which’s hard to estimate how much a person will earn each year. When cows sell high, ranchers do well. although, as in any market, the numbers fluctuate. One year, her family might make $20,000; another $50,000, she says. Financial uncertainty makes planning a crapshoot.
A stunning thing happened, though, when she got pregnant with her son. Suddenly, she was told she qualified for Medicaid, a notion which made her Republican head spin.
“I want to be responsible for myself. I don’t want to be dependent,” says the woman, who didn’t want her name used. “although you priced me out of what I did to take care of myself along with also forced me into government assistance.”
Pregnancies only last so long, though, along with also she doesn’t meet the Nebraska Medicaid qualifications for parents. which means she’s back to fretting about what This specific year’s premiums will be.
“I have to get knocked up,” she says, half joking, half disgusted. “Mama needs dental care.”
Fans turned foes
Across the street from the grocery store, I spot Clarissa “Casey” Sanchez working behind the counter. She was a fan of Obamacare at first.
Paying $50 a month for herself was both doable along with also a source of comfort for the 30-year-old employee.
although then she got married. With their combined gross incomes, she says, her monthly premium jumped to more than $0, along with also they make too much to qualify for Medicaid. Her husband has his own private policy, although she says she can’t join which because she’s pregnant. He bought the low-premium policy before Obamacare, along with also which doesn’t include maternity coverage.
Sanchez will be determined to take care of herself although feels punished for trying. She’s 13 weeks pregnant, scared along with also crossing her fingers.
“I’m going without insurance along with also trust Trump does something quick,” she tells me.
Nearby, working at a cash register, Julie Braun, 36, chimes in: “I got married to get off Obamacare.”
She, too, once enjoyed low premiums — just $30 a month — only to see them soar. She needed two ankle surgeries last year, along with also using a high deductible, copays, therapies, braces along with also boots — which aren’t covered — she says she’s staring down a $20,000 bill she can’t pay. She makes $9 an hour along with also even with her husband’s salary plans to file for medical bankruptcy.
Though Braun along with also her husband had intended to marry at some point, they moved up their wedding date by a couple years. He teaches from the school along with also has not bad benefits, along with also which was all she needed to rush down the aisle.
‘A scam along with also racket’
People here say they’ve had which with Washington along with also “mealy-mouthed politicians,” the sort who speak pretty although say nothing, one local explains. This specific will be why they backed Trump en masse. They like which he carries a business record along with also trust which he can do better by them.
“The man didn’t get rich as he will be by being stupid,” says one man who refuses to give his name although pulls me aside to tell his own story.
He’s 50 along with also has never paid for health insurance. He calls the health care system “a scam along with also a racket.” When he had a cracked tooth not long ago — the first dental problem he’d ever had — the dentist told him which would certainly cost more than $4,000 to fix. “For one tooth!” he exclaims.
So he looked at the dentist along with also asked how much which would certainly cost to pull out all his teeth along with also give him fake ones instead. which was half the cost, so he came back with his checkbook along with also had every tooth yanked.
He right now says he’s facing a stiff penalty for not having insurance, which enrages him.
“I pay for my own medical, along with also right now I have to pay for someone else’s?” he says. “Don’t get me wrong; I want to do my part. although when does my part stop?”
‘Garden of Eden’
The Sandhills Oil Company gas station — just “the station” to locals — will be a favorite gathering spot where people gab over coffee.
Robin Jameson, 56, sits from the corner office. She moved here to oversee the station, one of several in a family business portfolio.
“which felt like home immediately,” she says. She likes how people watch out for one another, donating propane along with also groceries to those in need, along with also she gives back in her own way.
An old rancher strolls into her office, seeking help deciphering a credit card bill. Retired ranchers down the road visit whenever their grandson competes in out-of-town rodeos, so she can set them up on a computer to watch the live-stream.
One of the regulars at a station table will be Woody Thompson, 76. He landed in This specific area more than 60 years ago, when he arrived on the scene of the Dust Bowl looking for work. He says he was brought here by “a drunk along with also a horse thief.”
For decades, he worked on ranches. which’s been a life rich in independence along with also great neighbors, the sort who once kept reselling a white leghorn rooster to raise money for a friend dying of brain cancer. These qualities made even the toughest days worthwhile. Digging harnesses out of snow drifts, riding miles along with also miles in 30-below temperatures, the winter of ’78-’79 when the ground never saw less than 3 feet of snow — he wouldn’t take back his time here for anything.
“which might not be heaven, although which’s the Garden of Eden,” Thompson says.
A heart problem eventually took him away coming from ranching. Twice a month, he drives 70 miles south to see his Denver cardiologist, who meets him in Ogallala — the nearest town on the nearest interstate. (Locals like which the interstate runs through flat Nebraska, allowing them to keep their hills to themselves.)
Thompson, who moved to Hyannis 15 years ago, hands over one of his business cards. He’s right now a traveling rep for a company which performs castrations. using a couple golf balls in a bag, he demonstrates how they’re done.
Like so many people in This specific county, he says which Trump’s business know-how spoke to him — even if he doesn’t suspect which he’d like the guy personally.
“I have three daughters,” Thompson says. “If Megyn Kelly had been my daughter, I would certainly have beat the hell out of him.”
Respecting the law
A couple blocks uphill, from the old courthouse, I find Christee Haney. She’s in her second term as county clerk along with also keeps official records from the same books along with also logs used by clerks from the late 1800s.
When she was elected seven years ago, which was to fill multiple offices. In an area as rural as This specific, she’s more than the country clerk. She’s also the county assessor, the registrar of deeds, the clerk of the court along with also the election commissioner.
Party registration doesn’t dictate votes here, where 81% of registered voters cast ballots in November. She has 40 registered Democrats, she says, although only 20 people voted for Hillary Clinton. Haney’s cousin will be one example; she’s a Democrat who voted for Trump along with also refused to back Obama, whom she never trusted.
Haney, 54, considers the high rate of Obamacare enrollment in Grant County along with also offers This specific: People are abiding by the law, simple as which.
“which’s a matter of respect out here, along with also which’s what we’ve all taught our kids,” she says.
The K-12 school in Hyannis, which serves several counties along with also has fewer than 150 students, will be a source of pride here. The teacher-to-student ratio will be 1-to-9, the principal tells me. Students are more than cowboys along with also cowgirls: They test above the national average, are given their own laptops, flourish from the arts along with also play sports which draw the community together.
Parents who’ve raised kids here brag about them getting scholarships; one proud dad says his daughter turned down Stanford, MIT along with also Yale because she wanted to be a Cornhusker. She graduated coming from the University of Nebraska with perfect grades.
She along with also others here prefer This specific quiet life with wide-open spaces along with also fewer stresses. They aren’t facing a drug epidemic along with also don’t worry about crime. They leave their keys from the ignition along with also don’t lock their doors. They don’t have a homeless problem along with also don’t fret about unemployment. If anyone wants to work, there’s work to be had.
The folks in Grant County wish people elsewhere would certainly take responsibility in their own lives along with also stop blaming others for their problems.
“People on welfare in big cities make more money not working than we do working,” says one woman. She’s not the only one I meet who believes This specific.
Not wanting to go without
In a smaller house on the north side of the tracks, where the railroad carries coal coming from Wyoming along with also Montana, Terry Keys feeds along with also burps his 3-month-old son, Deacon.
The baby shouldn’t be This specific old. He was born two months early, when severe preeclampsia sent Terry, 34, along with also his wife, Trish, on an emergency trip to Lincoln at the end of October. Trish along with also Deacon had to stay there for a month until which was safe to bring the baby home. Terry, who helps drill along with also service wells, drove more than 300 miles each way to join them on weekends.
Trish, the village’s 37-year-old salon owner, curls up from the chair beside her husband along with also son along with also recounts an odyssey she’s still processing.
The couple, both Trump supporters, had been uninsured when Obamacare came along. The first year, they paid a penalty of $0. although fearing the prospect of steeper fines, they signed up. With the Affordable Care Act, they could purchase what had previously evaded them for about $150 a month.
“which was reasonable, along with also we didn’t have insurance before,” Trish says. which helped them, she says, until which didn’t.
She’d been told their policy would certainly cover Deacon along with also the exorbitant neonatal intensive care expenses for the first 30 days of his life “no matter what.” although she says the insurance company stopped the family’s policy without notice. Trish along with also Terry found out only when they stepped into a pharmacy in Lincoln for flu shots along with also were told they had no coverage.
A panicked phone call later, she was told they qualified for Medicaid along with also should apply, which meant a flurry of paperwork along with also bureaucracy. After the trauma of having a preemie along with also being stuck in a city far coming from the earth she knows, Trish came home to the stress of fighting a $104,000 bill. She still isn’t sure who’s responsible — Medicaid or the insurance company — along with also only knows she along with also Terry won’t be able to pay which.
“There has to be a simpler way. I feel like they’ve overcomplicated everything,” she says.
“which’s mind-boggling to me,” she says before turning her gaze to her son, who finally weighs 9 pounds. “right now which This specific has happened, you don’t want to go without insurance.”
She hopes to still be able to afford which. along with also like others in This specific remote heartland county, she trusts which her brand new president won’t let her down.
sy88pgw’s Sonam Vashi contributed to This specific report.