Dems, GOP Continue Sparring Over BCBS Decision to Exit


The Tennessean, Sept. 26, 2016

By: Joel Ebert

As was the case last month, when the state’s department of commerce commissioner said Tennessee’s Obamacare exchange was near collapse, Republicans and Democrats had vastly different takes on BlueCross BlueShield’s decision to pull out of Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville.

Issuing separate statements, members of the state’s congressional delegation on down said the latest news is further proof of the failure of the Affordable Care Act.

“This is more evidence that Obamacare is falling apart,” said U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Calling BlueCross BlueShield’s decision the “latest canary in the coalmine,” Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said the insurance company’s decision underlines the legacy of the Affordable Care Act, which he said is failure and collapse.

Norris and other Republicans, as well as Democrats, said they were concerned about where people who are going to lose coverage will turn.

“As a nurse, it pains me to know how this will impact real people throughout Tennessee — the latest victims of President Obama’s lie that ‘if you like your health care plan, you can keep it,’ said U.S. Rep. Diane Black.

The local chapter of Americans for Prosperity — an organization backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch — even weighed in on the issue, with Andrew Ogles, the group’s state director, saying the Tennessee General Assembly’s decision not to expand Medicaid was the right move.

That point is one that Democrats seized on as they reacted to the latest developments.

The state’s two Democratic congressmen in addition to two Nashville-based lawmakers pointed to Tennessee Republicans’ failure to expand Medicaid coverage as part of the reason for BCBS’s decision.

“Republicans in Congress have been doing everything in their power to dismantle the Affordable Care Act since it began, and the Tennessee General Assembly has refused to accept additional Medicaid funding from the federal government,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen. “This has created a more uncertain and riskier environment for health insurance providers.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper said BCBS’ decision further points to the need for passing Insure Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam's plan to use federal funds to expand health insurance access to hundreds of thousands of low-income Tennesseans, which failed to generate support in the legislature last year.

At a joint news conference Monday afternoon, Sen. Jeff Yarbro and Rep. John Ray Clemmons, both Democrats of Nashville, said lawmakers needed to move beyond partisan politics and move forward with providing the state’s residents answers.

Yarbro said he was disturbed by the “victory lap” he said Republicans were taking after BCBS told The Tennessean about its decision.

“What’s unacceptable is to see people on the other side of the aisle and the administration sort of say we should just wait for Congress to fix this,” Yabro said.

“It’s time for people who are serious about trying to make life better for people here in Tennessee to get in a room, to figure out what the problems are and try to actually do something to make life better for those in Tennessee,” Yarbro said.

Clemmons said he wants answers from the state’s Republican leaders as to why the Affordable Care Act has been successful in other states but not in Tennessee.

Yarbro and Clemmons said they have invited Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak to “an informal hearing” Oct. 12 to answer questions about recently approved insurance rate hikes.

“It’s past time to use this as a political issue and start looking at it like what it really is — a personal issue,” Clemmons said, while taking a jab at Republicans, saying they needed to provide leadership in ways they haven’t.

In a statement, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said, “I am tired — not just as a representative but as a Tennessean — of that ball being fumbled. Enough is enough.”