With the 2017 legislative session just three months away, Democratic leaders in the General Asembly have made it clear that they are in no mood to accept the healthcare compromise offered up by House Speaker Beth Harwell’s task force on the subject.
That plan, which is sure to be the subject of debate when the legislature convenes, is a much-winnowed-down and highly-conditioned version of Governor Bill Haslam’s ill-fated Insure Tennessee proposal, first introduced during a special session in 2014 and bottled up by a Republican super-majority then
Rep. Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley), at Wednesday's TNA forum, talks things over with District 96 House candidate Dwayne Thompson (center) and Thompson campaign adviser Bret Thompson.
and in another try since.
In a forum on state and federal legislation held Thursday night by the Tennessee Nurses Association at Jason's Deli on Poplar, both state Senate Democratic leader Lee Harris of Memphis and House Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley denounced the would-be substitute plan presented by the Harwell task force, which bears the name “3 Star Health Insurance Pilot," in the process renaming it. Their name for it? "Hooey!”
Instead of providing expanded Medicaid coverage for all Tennesseans currently uncovered by health insurance, this plan would, during a two-year trial period, offer coverage to uninsured veterans and people suffering from mental health needs, withholding any larger coverage pending a legislative re-evaluation that would include an opportunity to suspend the plan altogether through a variety of “circuit breakers.”
Harris drew first blood when asked about the task force plan: “Beth Harwell’s proposal sounds like a bunch of hooey to me. On our side of the aisle we are still pushing for expanded Medicaid in the form of Insure Tennessee or a similar alternative.”
Harris described Insure Tennessee as “the best way to take care broadly of a population that’s uninsured and [of] hospitals around our state that are suffering under financial strain and some of which are completely out of business.”
Insure Tennessee never got a fair consideration, Harris said, because “Republican party chairmen from around the state wrote in to Republican legislators and said ‘you better not consider Obamacare.’” Harris said the current “meltdown” in Republican politics caused by the internal party strive over Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy afforded Insure Tennessee a better chance of passage. In any case, “we don’t have to react to a bunch of hooey.”
Those remarks were basically seconded by Fitzhugh, who repeated the epithet: “This 3-start hooey is a bad idea.” Fitzhugh said “the worst part” of the task force proposal is that, instead of the 9 to 1 federal to state match proposed by Insure Tennessee, “in this 3-star plan it is only a 2-to-1 match, and the numbers aren’t going to work out. It’s going to be expensive to the state, and then they’re going to start crowing about what happened when we expanded Medicaid and the state did it on their own and almost sunk our ship.’”
Fitzhugh also drew attention to the fact that the state, under the 3-star plan, could continue to be denied the $1.5 billion in annual federal funding it would draw under Insure Tennessee. “The only upside” of the task force plan is that it would “keep the issue alive,” Fitzhugh said.
Two Democratic candidates for the House — Dwayne Thompson, running against incumbent Republican Steve McManus in District 96, referred to the task force plan as a rudimentary program…Obamacare Very Light” and said “my opponent bottled [Insure Tennessee] up in committee.
Thompson indicated that, if elected, he would attempt to amend the task force plan so as to broaden its coverage if Insure Tennessee itself could not be considered. He was seconded in that respect by Democratic candidate Larry Pivnick, running against incumbent GOP Rep. Mark White in District 83. “If they offer the compromise bill first I’ll move to amend it to include everybody. We have to call the question.”
Mark Lovell, unopposed after defeating incumbent Curry Todd in District 95, and the only Republican in attendance who was running for a state position, commented that he himself was “fortunate to be able to buy my own health insurance,” but said he thought the task force plan would “fix a huge void” and that “we should do whatever we have to do to take care of certain other people. We all need to make sacrifices.”