TN HEALTH CRISIS: Gov. Lee’s Finance Commish Answers Medicaid Expansion Questions (Very Poorly)

There’s been a lot going on, so it has taken us a bit to get to this, but a few weeks back The Tennessean had Governor Bill Lee’s finance commissioner Stuart Mcwhorter on their podcast to answer questions about the Rural Health Care “Task Force” they’ve assembled to try to address the nightmare that is rural health in Tennessee, where we’re #1 in MEDICAL BANKRUPTCIES and RURAL HOSPITAL CLOSURES PER CAPITA, at the bottom in infant and maternal mortality and opioid deaths, the list goes on.

Just last week we learned in 2017 alone there were 52 mothers who died preventably from lack of Tenncare, making it clear not expanding Medicaid is nothing short of policy murder.

Natalie Allison of The Tennessean asked Mcwhorter the questions. Understandably, The Tennessean had quite a few of them considering reporters were kept out of the closed-door task force meetings.

Below are some excerpts. You can listen to the whole interview HERE.

We’ll pick it up where Natalie asks Mcwhorter a very straightforward question:

NATALIE ALLISON: So obviously rural hospital closures is something we’ve heard a lot about from people who live in those areas who are concerned with that. The other thing is what you just mentioned – the number of uninsured people in the state. So what kind of feedback were you guys hearing on how the state can address that?

MCWHORTER: It’s the #1 question we got. And I think in light of the fact that we have a number of uninsured Tennesseans, you want to understand what the causes of those things are. Some of it is a lack of workforce opportunities. We were really making sure we were bringing that discussion into the fold, around economic development incentives for companies to relocate to rural parts of the state.

Notice that Mcwhorter immediately takes the question of stopping rural hospital closures and getting people insured to employment- anything to steer the conversation away from government-based solutions and towards “free market capitalism”, but even that is a bogus premise since Mcwhorter is already talking about how the government can encourage it through tax incentives (and what he would later refer to as “seed funding”).

TRANSLATION: They don’t mind government intervention as long as that intervention goes to corporations, rather than directly to us

This answer is also problematic for another reason: PEOPLE ARE HURTING NOW.

Again, we just found out over 50 mothers DIED from not having expanded Medicaid in 2017 alone. So while Lee & Mcwhorter assemble their “task force” and talk vaguely about economic incentives, 1 mother is dying unnecessarily each week.

This is nothing short of POLICY MURDER.

Another point: Mcwhorter is heralding employer-based insurance as the solution because they want to keep us reliant on our employers for insurance, because when we’re reliant on them, we’re compliant. Take GM canceling the insurance of striking UAW workers, for example.

As long as we depend on them for our health care, they know it will be much harder for workers to push back against our corporate overlords.

Mcwhorter continues:

MCWHORTER: If you aren’t employed and don’t have the skills, we tie in a lot of what we’re discussing with the governor’s initiatives around vocational education and focusing on some of the trades and technical education. But it starts even before that. You start really getting into some of the – I go back to the social determinants…

This is where it starts to get weird.

MCWHORTER: …if you can’t get a child immunizations, or early childhood reading, or things you really want to focus on when a child is born in the state, those things continue to compound over time, and won’t allow people to either get a job or get out of their circumstances. So we really try to get to the root causes of some of these issues.

As a reminder, the question is: How do we stop hospitals from closing and get people insured so they can see doctors.

Think about how far afield we’ve gone here. To address a question about hospitals closing NOW and people being uninsured NOW, Mcwhorter is talking about children being vaccinated and learning how to read, and how that may lead to them not having insurance as adults – because it makes them less employable.

Again, a mother is dying every week. This obvious deflection is not helping them NOW.

Stuart goes on:

MCWHORTER: And if they’re employed, hopefully they have access to their employer’s insurance. If they’re not employed, what can we be doing to train and educate so they can get employed.

They don’t want us reliant on government, but boy do they ever want us begging our bosses for our lives.

Also, a key word here was “hopefully”. We have a five-alarm health care fire in Tennessee, where again we’re #1 in MEDICAL BANKRUPTCIES and RURAL HOSPITAL CLOSURES PER CAPITA, and Bill Lee’s health care task force mouthpiece is saying “hopefully” if we address some of these issues today’s kids may get employer-based health insurance in 25 years or so.

It gets worse.

Mcwhorter then goes on to blame mental illness for why some people don’t have insurance.

Yes, seriously:

MCWHORTER: And if you’re still up against other issues that prevent that (meaning getting a job) – and a lot of it is mental. We’re all aware of what’s going on around the state with that. We’re trying to address the mental disorders, the opioid crisis, all the things that contribute to that as well.

Aside from the obviously insulting implication that the hundreds of thousands of low-income folks who are falling into the Medicaid gap are either mentally ill or addicted to opioids, there’s a glaring flaw in what Mcwhorter is saying here: Studies have found Medicaid expansion is critical for fighting the opioid crisis.

There’s a reason opioid deaths are going up in our state while they go down in the states around us – it’s because we didn’t expand Medicaid.

We’ve rejected $7 BILLION and counting. You think that wouldn’t help us deal with the opioid crisis and other issues? Of Course it would. That’s not politics, it’s math.

Natalie Allison then speaks again for the first time since asking the original question, and asks Mcwhorter directly about Medicaid expansion (thank you Natalie):

NATALIE ALLISON: There are people who for years have been saying EXPAND MEDICAID, EXPAND MEDICAID. I have a feeling that’s not going to be the strategy you all are gonna be recommending to the governor as part of this task force, since he’s made it clear that’s not something he’s going to do. Is that safe to say?

MCWHORTER: I think it’s safe to say. A couple things. One is – he said that. The way I interpret that is this is a long-term plan with a long-term solution we need to look at. It’s a heavy lift. It’s a lot of hard work. It’s easy to look at something that’s immediate – i.e. Medicaid Expansion – but I think there’s a deeper issue here that we really want to look at.

(Did we mention one mother is dying each week that didn’t have to die while Mcwhorter and Lee “look at” deeper issues with their “task force”?)

MCWHORTER: Now I say all that to say, the legislature did pass a law around the Block Grant. If we don’t negotiate something, that goes away. Does Medicaid Expansion come back? I don’t think it comes back just in the context of Medicaid Expansion. But I think the same principles that are around Medicaid Expansion… I mean the goal around Medicaid Expansion is to provide access, coverage to more people. That’s what our goal is. We’re trying to do the same thing, it’s just getting there is going to be a little different.

Why? You’re literally saying Medicaid expansion does the things you want to do. The tool is sitting there. Why not use it?

Politics, that’s why. Plain and simple. Also, it’s worth noting that the Block Grant Mcwhorter is talking about is A) Illegal probably, and B) DEEPLY unpopular. Nearly 1800 people spoke up about it at the public hearings last month, and a whopping NINE were in favor of it.

Back to the conversation – Natalie Allison picked up on Mcwhorter seeming to say Medicaid Expansion’s principles are what they want to accomplish, so she presses him on it:

NATALIE ALLISON: So you just said something really interesting – you said you might take the principles of Medicaid Expansion and apply that to whatever other solution you all would use as your Plan B. Can you talk a little bit more about that? And clarify whether Medicaid Expansion would be totally off the table for your recommendations?

MCWHORTER: I guess what I’m saying with the principle applies is the ultimate outcomes. The goal of
Medicaid Expansion is to provide more access – more insurance to more people – the Governor doesn’t disagree with that. We also have to be fiscally responsible. And so we have to look at the right balance.

“Fiscally responsible”? Is rejecting $7 Billion that would help our state “Fiscally responsible”? Who is that helping?

They love talking about running the state “like a business” – what boss wouldn’t be fired for rejecting an injection of $7 Billion?

If what Mcwhorter means is the state would’ve had to match 10% of the expansion dollars – our state’s own hospitals said they would COVER THE DIFFERENCE because they need the funds so badly, and wanted to stem the tide of hospital closures.

No, Governor. Rejecting Medicaid Expansion is the opposite of “fiscally responsible”. It’s both fiscally and morally irresponsible.

Our state is suffering. Our mothers are dying. There’s a reason our last Republican governor Haslam called not expanding Medicaid one of his biggest regrets.

Meanwhile Governor Lee and this Republican Supermajority, who we’ve just learned have been sitting on $730,000,000 in TANF block grant funds intended to help poor people, now want to get their hands on billions in Medicaid block grant dollars intended for poor people’s health care.

Downright terrifying.

After 5+ years of blocking Medicaid Expansion, you’d think they’d have better answers than this.

Employer-based coverage is sometimes adequate — IF it’s offered. Tennessee leads the nation in minimum wage jobs. Those workers should be able to go to the doctor too.

The 78 Year-Old Woman Arrested for Growing Marijuana

“I was 78 and got arrested for growing marijuana.”

Flo Matheson ran against Cameron Sexton and Diane Black, but was arrested for growing marijuana because someone “snitched”.

It’s time to move forward on medical marijuana to give addicts, veterans and more another way to treat their pain. “GET HONEST” – Flo to Rep. Kumar, who stands in the way.

After 188 Days of Protest, KINGSPORT TN Citizens Fight Anti-Free Speech Ordinance

Kingsport has protested the gutting of their hospital by a shady state-sanctioned monopoly Ballad Health for 188 DAYS. The city just passed an ordinance directed at them, and even threatened to charge their leader with “Felony Vandalism” for damage to the grass.
Watch the VIDEO from their heated meeting last night below, and holler at the mayor Patrick Shull and the city officials like Vice Mayor Colette George HERE.

Here’s the back story, from Daily Kos.
‪And here’s Ballad CEO ALAN LEVINE on 60 Minutes defending HMA pressuring doctors to admit people to the hospital unnecessarily FOR PROFIT. (AKA “MEDICARE FRAUD”)‬

Spoiler: Levine was lying. HMA ended up paying $260 MILLION in fines for DEFRAUDING the government.

‪Hey when nobody goes to jail, it’s worth it right? Now he’s in Kingsport sharing his *expertise* with them.‬

KANEW: Lee, State GOP Have Shown They Can’t Be Trusted With A Medicaid Block Grant

This op-ed by Holler co-founder Justin Kanew was originally seen in the Tennessean last week

Medicaid expansion would have been cost-free to Tennessee, yet former Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan was blocked by his own party.

Gov. Bill Lee’s possibly illegal Medicaid block grant proposal would put billions of dollars Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens depend on in his hands and the hands of the Tennessee Republican supermajority with few strings attached. The plan gives them the incentive to spend as few of those dollars as possible by finding “savings” the state would then keep a portion of.

Beware of ‘savings’

If “savings” sounds like “cuts” to you, you’d be correct. That’s why the block grant pushers have been unwilling to promise no cuts, and why comments about the proposal have been almost entirely negative. The American Pediatric Association, the American Lung Association, doctors, patients, mothers, lawyers, state legislators, members of Congress — in short, nearly everyone who has spoken at this week’s public hearings has been staunchly against what they see as a bad deal for Tennessee. It’s a deal that will hurt the people who need our help the most — seniors, children, the disabled and the poor.

The specifics of a block grant are vague and complicated, but the bottom line is that Lee and the state’s Republicans are asking us to trust that they’ll do a better job of stretching those Medicaid dollars without the federal rules and oversight that are designed to protect those at risk.

But Lee and the GOP have already shown us they are undeserving of our trust. Medicaid expansion would have been cost-free to Tennessee, yet former Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan was blocked by his own party, and in the aftermath 12 hospitals have closed, 300,000 people have gone unnecessarily uninsured, and we’ve lost $7 billion of our own federal tax dollars. Yet we have still not been given a good reason other than that it was President Barack Obama’s idea.

Now Tennessee leads the country in medical bankruptcies, rural hospital closures per capita, opioid deaths and infant mortality rates and is bringing up the rear in health care access. We have a four-alarm health care fire in Tennessee, and now we’re supposed to trust the party that refused buckets of water and let it burn to do the right thing with even less oversight and more “flexibility?”

Governor was a no-show

Lee has intentionally ducked this week’s public hearings while calling the very qualified professionals and parents speaking out against his block grant “misinformed.” But they’re not. They know the truth about what’s happening here in Tennessee and the irresponsible tragedy of not expanding Medicaid, and they simply don’t trust Lee to put Tennessee’s children, elderly, poor and most vulnerable ahead of money and politics this time around either.

“I had hoped Governor Lee’s religious faith would’ve given him more of a heart for the poor, especially as we anticipate the Day of Prayer he has called,” Rep. Jim Cooper said at the public hearing in Nashville this week. Amen, Jim. On that Day of Prayer, Lee might want to say one for his own soul, and the soul of his party.

“Faith without works is dead.” — James 2:17

Justin Kanew is a co-founder of the Tennessee Holler.

 

 

VIDEO: CLIPS From Nashville’s Public Hearing On Lee’s (ILLEGAL?) Medicaid Block Grant Proposal

This week throughout Tennessee public hearings for comments about Governor Bill Lee’s possibly illegal block grant proposal are being held. A Block Grant would hand a giant lump sum of medicaid dollars to a group of people who have already shown they don’t actually care about the suffering of poor Tennesseans, having rejected billions of Medicaid expansion dollars for no non-political reason.

It has cost us BILLIONS. We’re #1 in Rural hospital closures, medical bankruptcies, at the bottom in opioid deaths, infant mortality, the list goes on.  Medicaid expansion would help all of those things. A block grant will only exacerbate them.

The hearing in Nashville was emotional, but Lee and the TN GOP wouldn’t know because they weren’t there, and they didn’t have anyone there to record it or take note of the comments.

We were there though. Below are a few clips.

Rep. Jim Cooper: “I had hoped Gov. Lee’s religious faith would’ve given him more of a heart for the poor, especially as we anticipate the Day of Prayer he has called.”

Cooper exposes Lee’s (illegal?) Block Grant as a bad deal for Tennessee & our most vulnerable:

“These aren’t just numbers. There are real people suffering… This is a faithful state- we should be helping the poor, not hurting them.”

Holler co-Founder Kanew speaks up:

“If it wasn’t for my family there are times I wouldn’t have anything to eat. It’s so humiliating.”

DEVASTATING testimony from a woman who lost Medicaid to a paperwork snafu. Governor Lee’s proposal will lead to more of these stories, not less:

VIDEO: Green’s Grandstanding “Gimmick”

Watch Rep. Mark Green use the memory of fallen soldiers to try to delay Rep. Underwood’s bill which would provide Electronic Medical Records at the border – as requested by border officials – to keep immigrant kids from dying in our care, which is happening for the first time in a decade.

A heated Leader Steny Hoyer points out Green’s MTR “does nothing for veterans”, and would simply be a delay tactic.

 

VIDEO: Cherisse Scott Fires Back At Senator Kerry Roberts

“Absolutely it was racist… you want folks to stay ignorant so they won’t hold you accountable. It was not a joke.”‬

Cherisse Scott of SisterReach fires back at Sen. Kerry Roberts, who called for an end to higher ed after her #TNAbortionBan testimony.‬

She also said:

“You’ve been able to effectively train your people to believe I don’t care about myself, my baby, my community, and as long as you can keep that going there will never be an opportunity for white Tennesseans to believe they have something in common with black Tennesseans.”

Watch the CLIP below, and the FULL Facebook Live  INTERVIEW HERE.

The AUDIO is also available on our podcast – subscribe on Itunes HERE.

And below you can watch Cherisse read the full testimony she tried to give during the #TNAbortionBan Senate committee hearings before Senator Mike Bell cut her off. He let a man who said he “remembers being born” go on much longer.

VIDEO: Senator Kerry Roberts Wants to “Get Rid” of Higher Education in America

In response to passionate abortion ban hearing testimony from Cherisse Scott of Sister Reach – a pro-reproductive freedom witness who called Republican legislators to account for failing to expand medicaid, raise the wage to a living wage, support public education, and other public policies that should be supported by anyone who is truly “pro-life” –  State Senator Kerry Roberts called for ending higher education in Tennessee on his radio show.

Presumably because that’s where Cherisse and others learn to support policy positions Roberts opposes. Yes, he lays abortion squarely at the feet of Tennessee’s colleges.

As a reminder, Cherisse was gaveled out and cut off by chairman Mike Bell, who allowed others to go much longer and finish their testimony, including anti-abortion advocate who says he “remembers being born”.

Watch and Share, and feel free to holler at Senator Roberts HERE.

 

VIDEO: REP. CEPICKY & SEN. HENSLEY SCHOOLED ON MEDICAID EXPANSION

At a town hall in Maury County yesterday a local man named Greg Heller, who asked Rep. Scott Cepicky and Senator Joey Hensley why the TN GOP continues to block medicaid expansion and let Tennesseans die unnecessarily when expanding medicaid would cost the state nothing, and we lose $1.4 Billion every single year we don’t do it.

Tennessee is at the bottom in health care access, opioid deaths, infant mortality rates, the list goes on… we’re #1 in rural hospital closures per capita and medical bankruptcies. Medicaid Expansion would help all of it, and cost us nothing.

Also, important to remember – Cepicky says they want to “proceed with caution” when it comes to federal dollars, but TENNESSEE IS ALREADY ONE OF THE MOST FEDERALLY DEPENDENT STATES at 36% of the state budget. Do he and the TN GOP want to give that money back?

HOLLER AT YOUR REPS and tell them Greg’s right – there’s no excuse. Expand Medicaid.

Senator Reeves, The #1 TN Opioid Pills Distributor, Admitted He Makes Laws to Benefit His Business (And Opposes Medical Marijuana)

With Senator Marsha Blackburn helping to keep the money-spigot turned on for Big Pharma by making it harder for the DEA to fight the opioid crisis, a federal database recently found a pharmacy in Murfreesboro owned by state Sen. Shane Reeves sold 46 million pills over six years, distributing the most opioid pills in Tennessee BY FAR, with no close second.

Reeves initially said he wasn’t surprised, but now his company TwelveStone is demanding a recount, so it’s worth remembering that during his campaign Reeves came out durinn a Pharmacy Podcast Network interview and openly said he told his company partners that he’s running for office because being a state senator would be good for his company in two areas: “Public Policy and Networking”

Yes, Reeves comes right out and says the quiet part out loud – that from his position at state senator he’ll be able to help his own company, Twelvestone. Here’s the quote, and you can hear it for yourself in the video below:

“One [way TwelveStone will benefit is] obviously public policy, trying to drive and make a difference in the issues that are impacting pharmacy and healthcare so much in business. The second thing is business development growth and networking. Clearly as a state senator I’m going to meet a lot of people which can help for the company — anytime someone looks up Shane Reeves, they’re going to see TwelveStone.” 

Again- Reeves is literally reassuring his own partners that by running for state senate he can influence the regulations that govern his industry and promote the company through his position.

And he has been doing it.

The list of bills Reeves has sponsored includes a number of bills related to the pharmacy industry in which he works.

As TwelveStone shovels pills out by the millions, Tennessee is one of the few states in which opioid death tolls are still going up even as states around us see theirs going down. We’re also far behind the overall trend of dropping opioid addiction numbers, which studies show is very clearly tied to our unwillingness to expand Medicaid – which Reeves does not support.

Importantly, he is also one of the voices against Tennessee passing a law legalizing medical marijuana, which would allow Tennesseans to deal with their pain in a manner other than with the pills his company makes a killing off of.

During his run for the senate against Gayle Jordan, who did support Medical Marijuana, Reeves had this to say on the topic:

“There absolutely are benefits to cannabis, medical marijuana, for people who’ve got cancer, glaucoma, nerve pain and headaches. There are also other ways you can take it other than smoking it. There’s oils, capsules, and I think over the next years we should look at some other options… But right now my answer to medical marijuana is not now.

Sorry Tennesseans suffering from cancer, glaucoma, nerve pain headaches – many of which are veterans, who overwhelmingly support medical marijuana – your pain relief will have to wait, because TwelveStone has money to make.

As the Tennessee Democratic Party said during Reeves’ campaign:

“Shane Reeves loaned his campaign more than $255,000 and raised at least half a million dollars for a job that pays $22,000. Now we know why: In his own words, getting elected would help boost his name recognition and help his pharmaceutical company TwelveStone succeed.”

If you agree Reeves running for state senator to help his own company while helping to block things like Medicaid expansion and Medical Marijuana, which would actually help people, is not a good thing, holler at Senator Reeves HERE.