Clemmons Op-Ed on Insure Tennessee


The Tennessean, 1/26/15

By John Ray Clemmons

Insure Tennessee imperfect but good for TN residents

I intend to vote for Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Insure Tennessee” proposal, and this is why.

It is the right thing to do. It is time to stop playing partisan politics with people’s lives and depriving hardworking Tennesseans of access to health care.

During my campaign, I made a promise to Nashville families on their doorsteps that I would fight to expand health coverage in our state. I am standing by my word. I recognize that the governor’s proposal is a conservative approach that fails to address major policy issues inherent in our health care system, but its potential benefits to so many Tennessee families far outweigh any drawbacks. For this reason, I consider this plan a significant step in the right direction.

Data from the University of Tennessee Center for Business and Economic Research prove the proposal’s potential for positive change in our state. More than 470,000 people across Tennessee, most of whom are engaged in the workforce, would be eligible for Insure Tennessee programs. More than 200,000 Tennesseans, representing only 8 percent of the population, but 30 percent of the uninsured, are expected to take advantage of the proposed programs.

Those eligible under this plan are 50 percent more likely than TennCare recipients to be employed. More than two-thirds of TennCare recipients and individuals in Insure Tennessee worked more than 75 percent of the year.

Notably, Insure Tennessee presents us with an opportunity to reduce the number of uninsured veterans in our state by more than 25 percent. More than 24,000 Tennessee veterans would be eligible for health coverage under the governor’s proposal.

Insure Tennessee makes economic sense. Research from UT also shows that Insure Tennessee could bring an estimated $1.14 billion to the state and create approximately 15,000 jobs and $909 million in income.

By not moving forward with this or a similar plan, Tennessee would be leaving $2.3 billion in federal funding on the table in 2016. These hard-earned tax dollars are currently subsidizing other states’ health care systems while Tennessee families get zero in return. According to the Urban Institute, Tennessee taxpayers stand to lose $7.8 billion in federal taxes to other states over a 10-year period. Sending away our tax dollars to other states is directly contradictory to fiscal conservatism.

Additionally, Insure Tennessee comes at no additional cost to taxpayers. This pilot program is 100 percent paid for by the federal government through 2016, and Tennessee hospitals have agreed to bear any additional costs to the state created by the plan.

Insure Tennessee will keep our hospitals open. Both the Tennessee Hospital Association and the Tennessee Medical Association support the governor’s plan. Without it, one third of our state’s hospitals are slated for closure, including several in Davidson County and all over Middle Tennessee.

In the coming weeks, I will be encouraging my colleagues in the Tennessee General Assembly to support Insure Tennessee, and I would ask that you join me. It is the right thing to do for thousands of Tennessee families.

John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, is an attorney and represents District 55 in the TN House of Representatives, serving on the Health Committee and Health Subcommittee.