Healthcare, education topics of discussion at Legislative Breakfast

Published 10:23 am Monday, March 16, 2015

NW0315 Legislative Breakfast

Health care and education were the topics of the day at the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce’s annual Legislative Breakfast Friday morning.

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The public was invited to the Tennessee College of Applied Technology of Elizabethton to interact with their elected local, state and federal officials and to hear an update on current issues and upcoming legislation.

Sen. Rusty Crowe discussed the recent defeat of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal. The governor’s plan would have used federal dollars made available through the Affordable Care Act to provide health care options for anyone earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line. The state estimated 280,000 of the roughly 470,000 eligible for the plan would sign up in the first year.

Insure Tennessee failed to pass during a special session to approve the health care plan.

After the Affordable Care Act passed, the state’s leaders set about to make a health care plan that would require accountability from the participants and would reward them for making good health care decisions, Crowe said.

Senators had planned to approve Insure Tennessee, but after looking further into the wording of the federal agreement, they decided they could not, Crowe said.

“The day before, I was on the news saying I was going to vote for it, and then I could not,” Crowe said. “The second day we were in special session, we found nothing to show that the federal government would honor our plan. It kind of fell apart. We didn’t feel comfortable committing to something that the other party might not honor.”

The governor tried to get a formal agreement in writing, but he was not successful, Crowe said.

“If we had voted to approve it, it would have been under control of the federal government,” Crowe said. “There was nothing in writing to ensure it would have stayed the same as it was. We had no assurance from the federal government that they would have left it they way we had designed it.”

The plan now is to work to finalize an agreement that will make sure Insure Tennessee will stay as Tennessee lawmakers have made it, Crowe said.

“We want to get this done,” Crowe said. “We want these people to have insurance. We want it to be with the plan the governor has come up with. It is a good common sense plan that requires accountability and responsibility.”

Officials also discussed the upcoming Supreme Court ruling on health exchanges. Wording in the legislation for the Affordable Care Act has left some question over which citizens get tax credits. According to Crowe, the wording states health exchanges established by the states get the tax subsidies. However, there are many states, including Tennessee, that operate with a federal-based health exchange.

“If the court says only those with state exchanges get the subsidies, we would could have another crises,” Crowe said.

Representatives of Sen, Lamar Alexander and Congressman Phil Roe agreed that the Supreme Court decision would be one to watch.

“We need to watch the Supreme Court decision on the federal and state subsidies,” Roe Field Director Bill Darden said. “If they rule it is unconstitutional, then it will get very interesting very quickly.”

Alexander’s field representative Lana Moore said to expect a “flurry of legislation” after the Supreme Court ruling was handed down.

In other health care news, Representative Timothy Hill told of legislation that was early in the process that would provide care for almost 38,000 veterans in Tennessee if it was approved. The plan would take the current National Guard armories and facilities and use them as health care clinics for veterans.

“This is in its very first stages,” Hill said. “We would be taking care of our veterans using the current infrastructure that is in place.”

In education, Moore reported Alexander was working to have No Child Left Behind reauthorized.

“Not only is he working to have No Child Left Behind reauthorized, he is looking at a complete overhaul,” she said. “There are some things that worked well for No Child Left Behind and others that did not.”

A draft of NCLB had been available for public comment and Alexander hopes to bring the plan to the Senate floor in April, Moore said.

Another focus for Alexander is revising the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, she said.

“He would like to see it cut down to two questions from pages and pages,” Moore said. “This would be a significant difference in making college more attainable for students.”

Representative John Holsclaw shared two pieces of legislation he is working on. One would change identification standards and would not allow repeat DUI offenders to purchase alcohol with their ID if their drivers license had been revoked. Another is the implementation of a lifetime handgun carry permit option.

City mayor Curt Alexander and county mayor Leon Humphrey shared brief updates on local happenings.