Citizens for Insure TN launch billboard campaign demanding action

Published 9:45 am Tuesday, March 22, 2016

This is one example of the 20 billboards which have been purchased by citizens to encourage House Speaker Beth Harwell to use her leadership and bring Insure TN to a full vote.

This is one example of the 20 billboards which have been purchased by citizens to encourage House Speaker Beth Harwell to use her leadership and bring Insure TN to a full vote.

More than 70 individuals across the state have joined in a grassroots coalition purchasing billboards in support of Insure Tennessee. The billboards call on House Speaker Beth Harwell to demonstrate leadership and bring the measure to a full vote, after a House subcommittee voted last week not to bring it to the floor for a vote in November.
Two Nashville citizens, Mary Falls and Sally Smallwood, began the campaign with three billboards. Today, over 70 individuals have contributed and the campaign has garnered the support of more than 150 organizations.
“No more kicking the can down the road,” said Falls, a Nashville lawyer. “The time has come for our Speaker to stand up for hardworking Tennesseans, for veterans, for our economy and jobs, for our rural healthcare system and to show courage and leadership. The legislature needs to get on board with the will of the people.”
The 20 billboards went live Monday in now be seen in Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Jackson, Clarksville, Cookeville, Murfreesboro, Tullahoma, Elizabethton, Johnson City, Bristol, and Kingsport.
Among those who volunteered to purchase billboards are Nashville community leader Martha Ingram, retired CEO of Shelby County Common Table Health Alliance Reneé Frazier, retired minister Rev. Ed Wolff of the Tri-Cities area, Nashville business leader Curt Thorne, Mary Jo Middlebrooks of the Jackson Area Business and Professional Women, Molly Mann from the Tullahoma area, Cookeville couple Diane and Dr. Sam Glasgow, Professor Pippa Holloway and MTSU students in Murfreesboro, healthcare worker Katherlyn Geter in Chattanooga, Montgomery County Commissioner Jason Hodges, and retired carpenter Todd Shelton in Knoxville.
Hall said support in Elizabethton has been strong with a dozen individuals backing the cause and with the support of members of First Presbyterian Church. Donations to purchase the billboards have ranged from $10 to $4,200, Smalllwood said, but she added the cost is negligible when the health and economic impacts are considered.
Based on a study completed by Dr. Bill Fox and Dr. Matt Harris at the University of Tennessee, the bill would offer healthcare coverage to approximately 280,000 of 400,000 Tennesseans who currently fall within the healthcare coverage gap. This means they do not qualify for TennCare and earn too little for Obamacare. The primary occupations of these adults age 19-64 are in hospitality, food service, construction or other low-wage jobs. Of these, approximately 24,000 are veterans.
Proposed by Governor Bill Haslam, the bill would have no impact on the state budget because the federal government and hospitals have agreed to cover 100 percent of the cost. Opponents fear this agreement would not hold up, but the structure of Insure TN is such that if the funding was altered, the program would terminate.
Hospitals have incentive to participate because the bill would provide Tennesseans in the coverage gap to go to a primary care physician, rather than racking up hospital bills which will never be paid and will end up costing those with insurance more to receive hospital care. When the Affordable Care Act passed, states were expected to expand Medicaid, meaning that they would adjust their individual systems to allow approximately $1.7 billion in federal funding to enter the state annually.
Since 2014, Tennessee’s federal dollars allocated for those uninsured in the “gap” have been going to other states. The study conducted at UT estimates that for every federal dollar that enters the state through Insure Tennessee, 75 cents will flow through the economy. For example, the economic impact for Nashville would be $300 million in federal dollars, and for Shelby County, it would be $500 million.
The study also shows noticeable reductions in other states’ social service costs since implementing programs to cover those in the gap.
It estimates an added 15,000 jobs and the ability for hospitals to stay open. Five of 125 have closed. In Haywood and Fayette Counties, the hospital closures have negatively impacted the development of business prospects.
The obvious benefits, Citizens for Insure TN argues, are the improved health for citizens, improved health statistics for the state and a more financially stable workforce, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck and cannot take time off for illness.
Smallwood said that when she and Falls met with Harwell a year ago, Harwell said she was neutral.
“Harwell is in the position of forming the opinion of the body that she represents,” said Smallwood. “Many representatives have said they would support it if it came to a vote, but there’s not a lot of motivation to stick their necks out unless it has the support of Harwell. Most of the objections seem to be ideological, but the substance behind the plan is really solid, and it’s been vetted by independent third party supporters.”
Fall said that though objections vary, the current objection she is hearing from Harwell and other legislators is the national debt. Fall noted that highways, education and prisons are federally-funded and said she is stunned they would allow Tennessee’s tax dollars to go to other states.
Some argue that the reason for objection is out of shear opposition for “Obamacare” and its affiliated programs, like Medicaid expansion.
In March 2015, when Insure Tennessee failed to pass out of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, Mary Mancini, chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party, issued the following statement: “Today’s vote on Insure Tennessee shows that Tennessee Republicans don’t care if they deny health care to hardworking Tennesseans. They don’t care that working families will go broke if they get sick. They don’t care that hospitals are going to close and people will lose their jobs. They don’t care that without health care, Tennesseans will die. The ridiculous amount of time they spent debating whether or not “Insure Tennessee” is “Obama Care” clearly shows that they let their hatred of President Obama get in the way of doing what’s right for the people of Tennessee.”
A year later, the house has sent it to a study committee, which Falls said is the place “where bills go to die.”
Despite this ominous lack of progress in the House, Smallwood said support is increasing daily with efforts to educate about the potential impact and current loss of $2.7 million dollars daily lost to other states.
“People have jumped on board with time and resources to help move Insure Tennessee forward,” said Smallwood. “We are now statewide, border to border, and everyday support increases for our message that Speaker Harwell needs to speak up for the 64 percent of Tennesseans that have said they want action on this matter. It is not too late. Tennesseans have waited far too long, and we’re not willing to waiting another year or to hear anymore excuses. We expect answers and actions, not a brushoff.”

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