Opinion » Letter From The Editor

Death by a Thousand Cuts

Tennessee’s short-sightedness when it comes to accepting federal Medicaid dollars is bleeding our healthcare system dry.

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Hey, remember Ebola? The disease that was going to kill us all in the weeks leading up to the November elections? Remember that guy who died in Houston? And that nurse who rode on an airplane, endangering the entire traveling American public? And that other nurse who rode her bike around New York state, infecting millions? Remember Senator Lindsey Graham's adorable hysterics? Remember how the national media, particularly Fox News, tried to scare the crap out of us, day after day after day? Pay no attention to the experts! Block all air traffic from Africa! Quarantine everybody for 40 days! Thanks to Obama and Harry Reid, we're all going to die!

Yeah.

Then, like magic, the day after the mid-term elections, the crisis ended. Being something of a cynic, I predicted what would happen in an October 30th column titled, "The Ebola 'Crisis' Isn't." The usual right-wing commenters took their shots: "When a community organizer president, a lawyer Ebola czar, and the ultra liberal editor of an entertainment weekly tell you there's nothing to worry about, you can rest assured there's not." And, "The Flyer editor's a doctor now ... smart dude!"

No, I'm not a doctor, but I'll take doctors' and scientists' opinions over those of Sean Hannity and various anonymous nuts, any day.

And speaking of nuts ... what's really nuts is what's about to happen to Tennessee's health-care system. Earlier this year, Governor Bill Haslam issued a directive to all state department heads to cut their budgets by seven percent. Last Friday, TennCare released its proposed new budget, which slices $165 million in spending. That number actually represents around $400 million in lost revenue, due to the subsequent loss in matching federal spending.

From The Tennessean: "The proposed budget eliminates grants to safety net hospitals, ends funding for programs for babies born with health problems, halts coverage of hospice services, and limits in-home assistance for the elderly to those poor enough to qualify for Supplemental Security Income. Doctors and other health providers would get hit with a 4 percent reimbursement reduction. Other cuts include funding for medicines and mental health services."

Dave Chaney, a spokesman for the Tennessee Medical Association, said, "For more than 20 years, physicians have accepted very low rates to take care of patients, and the rates keep being cut as the cost of providing care goes up and the program continues to add people and covered services. That's an unsustainable trend." No doubt.

And of course, it's all made even worse by the state's ideology-driven refusal to participate in any variation of the Affordable Care Act. That foolishness is costing the state millions more in lost, no-risk health-care funding. Unfortunately, there's no known cure for stupid.

Maybe it would help if we could drum up some Ebola cases in Chattanooga.

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