No one expects Insure Tennessee to come up next week. But that doesn’t make it any less bizarre that our legislature would convene to receive $60 million for roads while allowing $60 million for health care to slip away every 24 days.
"The average Tennessean doesn't care that legal technicalities limit this special session to highway funds," state Rep. John Ray Clemmons said. "Tennessee families expect us to do our jobs. If we're coming to Nashville from all across the state to recover $60 million in lost federal funding, it is completely fair for any reasonable person to expect us to also collect $1 billion in annual federal dollars that is available to our state."
Since session adjourned last April, the case for Insure Tennessee has only strengthened. We have seen more rural hospitals close, bringing the total to at least eight since 2013. At least two public opinion surveys have shown that Tennesseans overwhelmingly support it. Insurance rates on the exchange are set to increase as much as 62 percent, due in large part to the high costs of treating people who can't afford health insurance.
"Tennessee has seen some of the highest insurance rate increases in the country, and that's directly related to the legislature's unwillingness to consider Insure Tennessee," state Sen. Jeff Yarbro said. "We still have 300,000 people in the coverage gap who can't afford health care, resulting in a less healthy state and higher costs all around. On top of that, Tennessee is an outlier with 15% uninsured, while the nation's uninsured rate is at historic lows."
A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that Medicaid expansion, known as Insure Tennessee in our state, leads to 7% lower insurance rates for everyone. States that have not expanded Medicaid still have large swaths of people who are uninsured, which drives up the cost of health care for everyone.
State Sen. Jeff Yarbro represents District 21 in Nashville and serves as Senate Democratic Caucus chairman. Follow him on Twitter at @yarbro.
State Rep. John Ray Clemmons represents District 55 in Nashville. Follow him on Twitter at @JRClemmons.