“Not expanding Medicaid is the worst mistake Tennessee has made in modern history,” said Tennessee Representative Gloria Johnson, retired educator and Democrat who represents House District 13 in Knox County.
She said a federal law would allow the state to extend Medicaid free of charge for 10 years as she answered questions in a recent online forum sponsored by the Tennessee Health Care Campaign, the League of Women Voters of Tennessee and the League of Women. Oak Ridge electors.
“It’s popular,” she said, noting that 65% of Republican lawmakers in the GOP-led Tennessee General Assembly support the expansion of Medicaid, 15% oppose it and 20% don’t. have no opinion. She added that many lawmakers are holding back from voting for her because of campaign funds they receive from Americans for Prosperity, the Tennessee Beacon Center and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). These special interest groups sponsor television commercials that oppose the expansion of Medicaid.
Joining her in the forum was Senator Richard Briggs, a Republican and cardiothoracic surgeon, who represents District 7 of Tennessee in Knox County. He has sponsored a bill in favor of expanding Medicaid since 2015. He noted that it has been passed several times by the Tennessee Senate Health Committee, but continues to die within. of the trade committee.
Johnson has personal reasons for supporting the expansion of Medicaid to cover Tennessee’s 300,000 working poor who fall into the health coverage gap. These unfortunate people cannot afford the health insurance offered on the Affordable Care Act exchange and they cannot get Medicaid insurance from TennCare mainly because they are not pregnant, do not have dependent children. or earn too high a salary.
“My sister and her husband both lost their homes and businesses when my sister was very ill,” she said. “Personally, I believe that health care is a right and that everyone should have access to it. No one should lose their home or business because they get sick.
She added that some of the uninsured low-income Tennessians who get sick die early. The reason: They are delaying their hospital visit for fear of a huge medical bill they won’t be able to pay, which is why Tennessee has one of the highest numbers of personal bankruptcies in the country.
Briggs said that under the US federal bailout act of 2021, Tennessee could receive $ 900 million that would cover the cost the state would have to pay to expand Medicaid over 10 years (5% of the total cost ). The federal government would pay 95% of the cost, giving the state more than $ 1 billion a year for the expansion of Medicaid.
The senator explained that the governor‘s proposed block grant is based on the difference between what the state pays for TennCare and the budget neutrality cap. He noted that the block grant “would not provide enough money to cover 300,000 low-income, uninsured Tennessee residents.”
Johnson called the block grant “non-starter” and “not an option.”
“We lawmakers must explain to Tennesseans that it is good business to expand Medicaid and that it will not cost the state to do so,” said the senator. “It will bring a lot of our tax dollars back to the state.” He added that since the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act, five conservative states have passed the Medicaid expansion: Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma.
Because the state rejected the Medicaid expansion, Briggs said, “Tennessee has closed more hospitals than any other state except Texas. When a hospital closes, the community loses doctors and other health care workers who do some of the highest paying jobs. The community can no longer keep its young people who want to become nurses. The state cannot recruit manufacturing industries from communities that do not have hospitals or health care. The census shows that the population of these rural communities is declining.
Despite NFIB’s opposition to Medicare expansion, the senator said he believed most businesses with uninsured workers would back it because the planned $ 6 billion Ford plant in the west of Tennessee will need 6,000 workers to make electric vehicles and batteries. Because the Ford plant will offer high wages and health benefits, it could drive good, low-income workers away from small businesses unless they have Medicaid health insurance.
Briggs said he believed the Medicaid expansion would be more likely to pass in Tennessee if an executive like Governor Bill Lee, who is also a businessman, stood up for it and “explained to the public its economic benefits. “.
He added, “We need leadership. At this point, it’s a political question, not a financial one.
Johnson agreed that “keeping the people of Tennessee healthy is good economic business.” But she said that even though “the governor says he’s business-friendly, he’s more of an ideologue than a man who cares about economic conditions in Tennessee.” His ideology and desire for re-election highlights what is good for the Tennessees from both a health and educational perspective.
She suggested the governor could face challenges in a Republican primary by candidates more extreme than him.
“He puts his political calculation ahead of the health of the Tennesseans,” Johnson said.
“I think he understands the problem and cares about the Tennesseans,” Briggs said. “But due to the political reality, he is not yet willing to expand Medicaid. Once he gets re-elected and becomes a lame governor, we might see him push for the expansion of Medicaid.