On Friday, Governor Bill Lee toured rural counties in southern middle Tennessee touting what he called his legislative accomplishments.
It’s worth noting that the counties he toured are home to residents with crushing medical debt. Additionally, many citizens in these counties face a lack of access to health insurance. While Lee failed to apologize for his health policy failures, the citizens of this area and all of Tennessee should be holding Lee accountable.
His steadfast refusal to expand Medicaid — at no cost to Tennessee taxpayers — is creating a crisis in a state that already leads the nation in both rural hospital closures and medical debt.
Here’s more (data from The Sycamore Institute) on the state of healthcare in each of the counties Lee visited:
28% of residents have medical debt in collections on their credit report
Between 11% and 14% of Giles County residents do not have health insurance
30% of residents have medical debt in collections on their credit report
14-17% of Lawrence County residents do not have health insurance
26% of residents have medical debt in collections on their credit report
8-11% of Lincoln County residents do not have health insurance
33% of residents have medical debt in collections on their credit report
14-17% of Bedford County residents do not have health insurance
According to Andy Spears, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action:
“Bill Lee’s stubborn refusal to expand Medicaid is an absolute policy failure. The current state of healthcare in these counties and all across our state is unacceptable. We lead the nation in rural hospital closures. We lead the nation in medical debt. Instead of announcing a plan to move forward and improve the lives of the residents of these counties, Lee is busy selling the snake oil of his Administration’s ‘success’. It’s disappointing and shameful. Tennesseans in Giles, Lawrence, Lincoln, and Bedford counties and all over our state deserve straight talk and real solutions.”
For more on our work fighting for healthcare, follow @TNCitizenAction
Residents in the Sullivan County/Kingsport, TN area have just entered their 40th day of protesting a recent hospital merger that will put the health care of many at risk. The merger is a demonstration of the intersection between political and corporate corruption.
Dani Cook, a local advocate from Bristol, Tennessee, explains the situation in detail below… And watch our brief VIDEO from Day 39:
Where Apparent Healthcare, Political, & Corporate Corruption Meet
In one of the most unusual healthcare-related actions ever taken by 2 states, State Senators, Representatives, Departments of Health, Attorneys General, and Community Business and Education Leaders joined together with two separate healthcare systems to create a medical monopoly, intentionally displacing competition and granting state and federal antitrust immunity.
The State of Tennessee and the Commonwealth of Virginia have executed a “COPA” – a Certificate of Public Advantage/Cooperative Agreement – unlike any in the history of healthcare in America.
The COPA annual review has just finished, and the TN Health Dept. couldn’t “grade” Ballad Health as laid out in the Terms of Certification. Because the Terms of Certification included a Plan of Separation requiring Wellmont Health System, Mountain States Health Alliance, and Ballad Health (the new health system) to keep 90% of their assets separate for the first 18 months after the COPA was issued, there is a unique window of opportunity to have the COPA modified or terminated!
The COPA law states:
“This COPA is subject to modification if at any time the Department (of Health) determines the likely benefits resulting from the Cooperative Agreement no longer outweigh any disadvantages attributable to any potential reduction in competition that may result from the Cooperative Agreement.
This COPA is subject to termination if the Department determines the benefits resulting from the Cooperative Agreement no longer outweigh any disadvantages attributable to a reduction in competition that may result from the Cooperative Agreement, and modification of the COPA is not obtained.”
Since the COPA has been executed, there have been reductions in pay, changes in services, repurposing and deletions of services, and a severe reduction in access to quality healthcare.
The changes have caused severe staffing shortages, true emergencies being treated in triage/waiting rooms, significantly increased wait times, patients being held in the ER for days to weeks, increased transports (often not covered by insurance), over-billing, and lawsuits from the health system against patients for bills, among other negative effects.
The region is rural, and has a poverty rate of 20-30%.
The people here are suffering. Doctors and nurses are leaving. And those that cannot leave are scared to speak out for fear of retaliation from Ballad Health.
Those fears are well founded, as several employees have already been admonished, warned, and even fired for doing so.
If we are going to save our healthcare system, the time to act is now, before the assets are combined on July 31st, 2019, which is why 10 residents have signed onto a federal lawsuit requesting Declaratory and Injunctive Relief.
HOW WE GOT HERE
The original COPA legislation – The Hospital Cooperation Act of 1993 – allowed health systems that were in financial trouble to work together in order to reduce costs, remain profitable, and still provide quality healthcare.
It did not, however, allow those health care systems to merge.
In 2014, Wellmont Health System announced it was looking for a strategic partner to help keep their hospitals operating, and reduce their $411 Million debt. The concern with this prospect was that Mountain States, with their own $892 Million debt, would be forced to do the same.
Shortly thereafter, prominent local businessman and BancTenn Chair, Bill Greene, was in the hospital for cellulitis in his leg. According to several interviews Greene gave in the press, it was this hospital stay that set off a chain of events that would change healthcare in our region.
It started with Greene’s cardiologist stopping by to check on him during the stay. Green asked the cardiologist to take a look at his chart, but he explained he could not do so because he was a Wellmont physician, and Greene was in a Mountain States Health Alliance hospital.
On a subsequent golfing trip Greene expressed his dissatisfaction that the two systems could not access each other’s information, especially given their proximity to each other (although this is common with all competing hospitals).
Greene asked Alan Levine, the new CEO of Mountain States, what the options were to rectify the situation. Levine explained that the two health care systems would not be allowed to merge by the FTC because they would be creating a medical monopoly, and that the FTC has a 70% success rate in blocking such acquisitions/mergers.
Levine then shared the idea of a COPA – a so-far unused state mechanism that put price and competitive controls in place, and shielded health system mergers from FTC scrutiny.
Per Greene, he and a group of self-proclaimed “Hole-in-the-
1. Their hospitals were failing financially and were in such terrible shape that they were about to be sold to an outside healthcare system who would have no knowledge of or interest in the local region, and would dismantle, reduce, and close hospitals.2. That the merger of Wellmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance was their only chance of survival.
In addition to spreading their message to the public, the Hole in the Wall Gang needed to change the existing COPA Law, since it did not allow for the hospitals to merge. To accomplish that mission and get around the FTC’s 70% success rate blocking such mergers for antitrust reasons, The Gang would need to get new legislation introduced and passed.
Fortunately for them, one Gang member – Mountain States Health Alliance – had the Chair of the Tennessee Senate Health Committee on the payroll: Senator Rusty Crowe (R-Washington & Carter Counties).
Crowe had been a contracted employee for Mountain States for several years, and was the perfect vehicle through which these new pieces of legislation could be passed. On April 8, 2015 Senator Crowe introduced SB0994 to the Health and Welfare Committee.
Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knox County) abstained from voting due to a conflict as he also works for a healthcare system in nearby Knoxville TN.
Senator Doug Overbey (current U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of TN) abstained, stating:
“What is being proposed is an attempt to provide some insulation from anti-trust scrutiny under traditional anti-trust principles under both federal and state law and in fact, I think that’s what it says what it’s trying to do in Section 2.8.”
Senator Rusty Crowe – again, a paid hospital employee/vendor of Ballad Health – declared Rule 13, which states that he has a personal interest in this law being passed but that he promises his vote is in the best interest of the people.
As laws were being drafted, sponsored and passed by the politicians, the healthcare system administrators and Hole in the Wall Gang members were busy getting letters of support together from local businesses and organizations.
On June 2015, Commissioner of Health John Dreyzehner sent a letter to FTC Staff asking for an opinion. His question: If the New Health System that results from the merger under the COPA was subsequently sold to a non-COPA healthcare system outside of the region, would that trigger an antitrust review?
Better question: Why was he asking that?
At the time, Wellmont and MSHA had not filed a letter of intent to apply for the COPA or submitted the application. So why was the TN Commissioner of Health asking a question that appeared to only be of informational benefit to two private healthcare systems?
After 6 months, and subsequent phone conversations with the TN Dept. of Health, the FTC finally responded to this request for opinion, saying that typically once a merger is allowed to happen, and the assets have been combined, it is extremely difficult to undo.
They said it’s like trying to unscramble an egg.
A few weeks later, Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System submitted their application for a COPA.
Over the next two years, there were public hearings held in the local community, but with the local news media only being fed information from the two health systems and the Hole in the Wall Gang, the public was unaware of just what’s at stake, and hardly participated.
The local and state politicians, businessmen, and education leaders did attend those hearings, and advocated for the merger to be approved and COPA granted.
(*Important to note the participants in these public hearings because of their positions, the companies they own, and roles in the community – See “Cast of Characters” below… Also important to note the expert testimonies of FTC Staff and Bob Leibenluft, a DC antitrust attorney, formerly of the FTC Healthcare Antitrust Division)
(**It’s also interesting to note the investment Bill Greene seemed to have in this outcome. He’s a banker. Why the interest in healthcare?)
During the course of the public hearings, several independent investigations and subsequent reports were conducted, 2 of which are of particular importance, as they were financed by the FTC and by the Commonwealth of Virginia.
(Spoiler Alert: They both said “DO NOT DO THIS” – a merger is not necessary to accomplish the efficiencies and commitments promised, and no detailed plan has been provided to prove through clear and convincing evidence that this will be an advantage to the public.)
Independent Report by Robert Town (Commonwealth of VA Hired Expert): Here
Independent Report by Kenneth Kizer (FTC Hired Expert): Here
While there is a lot of information and additional players to be mentioned in this section, including people who worked with Alan Levine at his past companies coming to work with him, one of which was fined $260 Million for fraud, a CEO coming out of retirement, and more questionable political connections, let’s keep moving…
Fast-forward to January 31st, 2018, when the COPA is issued.
Even though the State of TN and Commonwealth of Virginia knew this day was coming, and the laws passed required oversight for the granting of the COPA, no COPA Oversight had been set up at that time.
In fact, it was approximately 4 months before the external COPA Oversight Monitor, Larry Fitzgerald was hired.
During that 4 month unsupervised period, the new health system – Ballad Health – made a move to refinance their debt through hospital municipal bonds. Keep in mind, between the two health systems they had approximately $1.3 Billion in debt.
As a combined system, their overall value was $3 Billion. The current rating on their bonds was a BBB+, so they shopped around to get the bonds refinanced, with the goal of getting a better bond rating to reduce their debt.
They located the Greeneville TN Health and Education Facilities Board, a board whose members had just been in trouble for not bothering to meet for 2 years, and had a better rating than Ballad’s bonds.
Keep in mind, Ballad Health is a nonprofit organization, and therefore a bond that refinances their debt is not allowed… unless you know a couple of politicians – in this case former TN Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, who called U.S. Representative Diane Black, who chaired the House Budget Committee and could rewrite the wording that allows the refinancing to take place.
Still crunching the numbers… but over $100 Million of them were traded between May 10th– May 15th, and the bonds weren’t delivered until 6/6, so the question is: Who had the bonds before the rating was improved, and who bought and sold the bonds?
The CFO of Ballad Health, Lynn Krutak – who helped CEO Alan Levine get the bond to refinance the debt – is also on the Healthcare Advisory Board for PNC Bank.
PNC Capital Investments is one of the three underwriters for the bonds, along with B of A, Merrill Lynch, and US BancCorp.
Bond Series A: Click Here
Bond Series B: Click Here
Ballad Health states in the SEC paperwork that they do not have the money to repay this debt or meet the COPA commitments, and that these funds (during their Forward-Looking Statements) would be derived from merger synergies and consolidations/deletions of services.
In this paperwork they outline certain changes that were not announced to the public or TN Health Department until 6 months after they had already begun implementation.
These changes, specifically the downgrading of the Level III NICU at Holston Valley Medical Center (FULL DISCLOSURE: where my granddaughter was born in 2017 weighing 1 pound 3 ounces), are what prompted my interest, subsequent research, and activism against Ballad Health, the TN Health Department, and VA & TN politicians.
(Yes, there is a lot that happens in Virginia as well… it’s just too much to go into here.)
You may be wondering why people weren’t upset and outraged by all of these things prior to November 2018… Well, it’s pretty simple: Within days of the COPA being issued, Senator Rusty Crowe introduced SB2048 (the revised version of HB2020 first introduced by Rep. Gary Hicks) which is a law protecting the information from the public:
SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 68, Chapter 11, Part 13, is amended by adding the following as a new section: 68-11-1310.
(a) The following records received by the department or the attorney general and reporter from the recipients or applicants of a certificate of public advantage for a cooperative agreement issued pursuant to this part shall not be subject to disclosure pursuant to title 10, chapter 7, part 5:
(1) Operating and capital budgets;
(2) Existing and future business plans other than any plans, and any modifications to those plans, that are required to be submitted to the state pursuant to a certificate of public advantage or application for a certificate of public advantage;
(3) Financial audit working papers as defined in § 4-3-304(7);
(4) Contracts or agreements with payors and payorpricing information;
(5) Physician recruitment plans and contracts or agreements with physicians;
(6) Contracts or agreements with vendors;
(7) Complaints, including hotline complaints and open investigations of such complaints; and Senate Health and Welfare Committee 1 Amendment No. 1 to SB2048 Crowe Signature of Sponsor AMEND Senate Bill No. 2048 House Bill No. 2020* SA0731 014499 -2-
(8) Employee personnel files, including performance evaluations, disciplinary actions, individual compensation amounts, and employment contract terms not otherwise publicly available.
In addition to these items being protected by this piece of legislation, it also stipulates that if you request this information, are denied, and then sue to obtain it, you – the citizen – are required to pay the attorney’s fees for the healthcare system/TN Dept. of Health.
So to recap: They created a medical monopoly, gave it anti-trust immunity on a state and federal level, protected non-proprietary information including complaints and changes to services, and on top of all of that they have placed the financial burden of seeking this information directly on the citizens for whom this COPA is supposed to be an advantage.
There are 1.2 Million people in rural Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, Northwest North Carolina, and Southeast Kentucky who are at the mercy of a medical monopoly that exists ONLY because a healthcare corporation, run by a CEO with an employment history that includes two companies that received judgments of $1.7 Billion and $260 Million in healthcare fraud, a group of local and state politicians, and a “Hole-in-the-Wall Gang” of city business, education, and community leaders banded together to change state law that allowed them to merge and granted them IMMUNITY from federal and state antitrust laws.
This unprecedented use of state law borders on unconstitutional given the protections of the Sherman Antitrust Act. And if not quite unconstitutional, certainly unconscionable, unethical, and immoral considering the impact on an already impoverished, under-served community.
We do not have a healthcare crisis in this country, we have a corruption crisis in this country, and corporations, politicians, and governmental policies and practices create, perpetuate, and celebrate its existence.
That is why we need you. No one is watching them. No one is hearing us.
And despite Ballad Health’s motto “It’s Your Story, We’re Listening.”
Our cries are falling on deaf ears.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Alan Levine, CEO Ballad Health, HMA (Health Management Associates) 2010-2013 – President & CEO of the Florida Group of Hospitals – DOJ $260M Fraud Judgment for 2008-2012 false claims.
Alan Levine is a member of the Federalist Society (his page as a “Contributor”) and is extremely active in political campaign contributions
Bill Greene – Chairman, banquet
Articles for Reference:
Scott Niswonger – President Niswonger Foundation (Money Influence)
Brian Noland – President, East TN State University & Member of Ballad Board of Directors
David Golden – SVP Safety & Sustainability, Eastman Chemical Company
Tony Keck – Worked with Alan Levine in Louisiana & SVP at Ballad Health
Andy Hall – Ballad Health Gov’t Relations
Eric Deaton – Ballad Health Marketing
Bart Hove – Wellmont CEO – came out of retirement to help make the COPA happen. Was supposed to stay on as 2nd in command at Ballad Health but left the day the COPA was issued.
Melody Trimble – Worked with Alan Levine at HMA and came to work with him at MSHA – also left the day the COPA was issued.
Identified Hole-in-the-Wall Gang Members (10 of 15): Bill Green, Brian Noland, David Golden, Scott Niswonger, Alan Levine, Dennis Phillips, Keith Wilson, Roy Harmon, Jerry Miller, John Tickle, Dr. Bill Hazel (Secretary of Health & Human Resource for the Commonwealth of Virginia met with the Hole in the Wall Gang Sept. 2014.
Tennessee: Senator Rusty Crowe, Senator Mark Norris, Speaker Ron Ramsey, Representative Gary Hicks, Senator Diane Black, Representative Bud Hulsey, Senator Jon Lundberg, Representative David Hawk – Also on COPA Advisory Council
Virginia: Terry Kilgore
Dani Cook is a local advocate from Bristol, Tennessee.
This morning in Franklin was the monthly Williamson County “Legislative Update”, hosted by Williamson Inc.
The event was called a “Town Hall” until recently, but the name was apparently changed after former State House candidate Rebecca Purington called them out for calling it a “Town Hall” without actually taking questions.
Fair point, Rebecca.
They stopped taking questions after Ashley Massey stood up and pinned Williamson legislators to the wall about their silence about Rep. David Byrd, who has apologized on tape to 1 of 3 women who say he molested them in high school.
Byrd remains in office to this day, but how long he lasts remains to be seen since his chief protector Glen Casada will be resigning his speakership in shame in the coming days.
Casada was not at the “Legislative Update”, apparently getting some sun in Greece.
Casada’s pal Brandon Ogles also skipped the meeting, letting the organizers know at 530AM this morning that he had a sudden “rotator cuff ” injury. (mm hmmmm)
The only Williamson legislators to show up were Sam Whitson and Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson. Below are some clips of a few of the subjects they covered.
Whitson talked about the passage of the Katie Beckett Waiver, which keeps parents of disabled children from having to make impossible decision to keep their kids on insurance.
No word on why that logic shouldn’t apply to the 300,000 other Tennesseans faced with the very same decisions, who don’t have insurance because of the Republican refusal to expand Medicaid, which costs Tennessee billions of dollars each year.
After the meeting Senator Johnson answered our question about the “Heartbeat Bill”, which seeks to ban abortions once a heartbeat is detected, and makes no exceptions for rape or incest – which means a raped teenage girl would have to carry her rapist’s child to term.
The film industry has recently said they w0n’t do business in Georgia if their similar bill becomes law. When asked what Johnson would say to industries that may have the same issue with Tennessee were Tennessee’s bill to pass, his answer:
“Go back to California.”
A bill that would effectively outlaw abortions in Tennessee if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade is headed to Governor Lee’s desk. Lee has repeatedly promised to support any bill that limits abortion in Tennessee, so the expectation is he will sign it.
It passed the legislature yesterday.
Watch the VIDEO:
Rep. Clark Boyd told Rep. Lynn, the sponsor, that he’s “proud to see her stand in the gap for the unborn.”
The trigger ban would take effect within 30 days if the Supreme Court does overturn Roe v. Wade, which is what many warned about when Trump nominated Judge Kavanaugh.
Reps Gloria Johnson and Bo Mitchell expressed concern that the bill would force a woman to carry her rapist’s baby to term, since there is no exception for rape, or incest.
Rep. Johnson said:
“It doesn’t stop abortions, it stops safe abortions… If you don’t think a woman should be in control of her own health decisions, you don’t believe women are equal.”
Rep. John Ray Clemmons also spoke up, pointing out the “hypocrisy” of Rep. Holt & Co. talking about “science” when they don’t believe in global warming, and calling themselves “pro-life:”while they continue to block medicaid expansion in Tennessee, which has cost the state $7 Billion and counting.
On Monday the Senate rejected a push to revive The Heartbeat Bill, which would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected – as early as six weeks into pregnancy.
They will review the issue this summer and consider it next year. If you have an issue with any or all of this, holler at your reps.
Tennessee has lost $3.1 Million every single day since refusing to expand medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which amounts to over $7 Billion and counting. 300,000 Tennesseans remain without coverage as a result, including 25,000 veterans.
Governor Haslam wanted to expand Medicaid. 37 other states have expanded Medicaid, including in “Red” states like Louisiana, to very positive results.
Instead, Tennessee’s Republicans are trying to have the Federal Government send the funding to the state in the form of a block grant, despite the warnings of many experts, who point out that block grants would cover fewer people, not more, and would do nothing to address the health care inequities in our state or to help with rural hospital closures.
Watch the FLOOR DEBATE HIGHLIGHTS:
The refrain from Republicans like Rep. Andy Holt is that we shouldn’t get “tangled up” with the federal government – which seems to ignore the fact that Tennessee is already tangled up with it plenty – between, the TVA, the V.A., Fort Campbell, Medicare, Social Security, SNAP, Oak Ridge National Lab, K-12 Federal funding, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the list goes on.
In fact, for every $1 Tennessee sends to the Federal Government it receives $1.46 in Federal spending.
This isn’t fiscal responsibility, it’s putting politics ahead of people.
Rep. London Lamar’s bill to give pregnant Hope Scholarship high schoolers more time with their babies before having to go to college passed with bipartisan support, after Lamar and Rep. Antonio Parkinson reminded the committee of its “pro-life” nature, and pointed out that the intention of the bill is to make it so that underprivileged girls aren’t forced to choose between their child and their education.
There was pushback both from the representative from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) in his testimony, and from Chairman Mark White (R), who claimed that allowing this concession to pregnant teens would open up the process to people with other medical issues – like depression and mononucleosis.
Lamar pushed back by stating the obvious:
“Pregnancy is not the same as depression.”
Lamar had support from an unlikely source in Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Dunn (R), who agreed that pregnancy is different than the other medical issues Brought up, and appreciated that the bill would keep pregnant teenagers from having to choose between their children and their education.
Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D) had the last word in support, saying that pro-life legislators needed to be consistent and support this bill.
“If we are going to be in a pro-life culture we need to, at a minimum, give people the tools to make pro-life decisions.”
He then called on anyone who supported the Heartbeat Bill to support the legislation.
The bill passed 14-6.
HB0689 by Lamar – HOUSE EDUCATION COMMITTEE:
Rec. for pass; ref to Government Operations Committee 4/3/2019
Representatives voting aye were: Baum, Byrd, Coley, DeBerry, Dixie, Dunn, Hodges, Hurt, Love, Moody, Parkinson, Vaughan, Williams, Windle — 14.
Representatives voting no were: Cochran, Haston, Leatherwood, Sexton J, Weaver, White — 6.
Justin Kanew ran for Congress against Rep. Mark Green in the 7th District in 2018. He wrote this in response to Green’s op-ed in the Tennessean this week, where Green asked: “Are the Democrats Ok With The Party’s Leftward March?”
First of all – Hi, Mark! Been a while. I haven’t seen you since you were refusing to debate me in our congressional race.
Since then we saw each other in Franklin, where you accused me of falsely accusing you of leading the fight against Medicaid expansion (despite your own endorsement saying you did), while also saying it was wrong of me to point out that you did it while declaring government programs like Medicaid “keep people from a saving knowledge of who God is”.
These “Radical” statements are all on video… the tape doesn’t lie…
NEW VIDEO: My opponent Mark Green explains his radical religious views behind his decision to reject billions of our federal Medicaid expansion dollars – which caused many rural hospitals to close and 300,000 Tennesseans to go without health coverage, including 30,000 veterans. pic.twitter.com/Q7bURIFuGc
— Justin Kanew (@Kanew) September 13, 2018
What makes it even more unconscionable is that you yourself were on a state health care plan. But I digress.
I’m writing here to answer the question you just posed in the Tennessean, where you asked: “Are the Democrats Ok With The Party’s Leftward March?”
You must’ve sat down to write that after your grandstanding at the Michael Cohen hearing, where you oddly didn’t seem to care at all about the multiple crimes the president may have committed – which most Americans believe he has.
Sorry, there I go digressing again.
Ok, let’s get down to it. I’m here to address your question. In short, the answer is a resounding YES.
YES, I’m ok with Democrats attempting to address the very serious problems of Gilded Age levels of inequality and climate change, which your party continues to claim is a hoax on behalf of the billionaires who finance your campaigns despite the fact that their own science has been telling them climate change is real for decades.
(Say hi to the Kochs for me, by the way. Maybe you’ll see them at your next ALEC meeting.)
You and I both just ran for congress in TN-7. If you were looking out the window as you went from photo op to photo op you may have noticed the harsh truth that not every county in Tennessee is Williamson County.
Rural Tennessee is hurting. But instead of doing everything within your power to help keep uninsured Tennesseans and rural hospitals afloat through medicaid expansion, or extending a helping hand to regular folks through a living wage, real tax relief, standing with unions, etc. – you mock every effort to help everyday Tennesseans as “socialism”.
Let’s be clear: “Socialism” is literally “a government takeover of the means of production”.
Nobody is advocating for that.
What I and almost every progressive I know actually want is to level the playing field and stop the over-concentration of wealth and power you and your pals facilitate at every turn.
You mock the Green New Deal, but I’ll take an over-ambitious plan to deal with the harsh realities we face over a corrupt deal with the Big Everything devil any day of the week. (Reminder: One of us refused PAC money of any kind during our race, and it wasn’t you.)
One can only imagine what you would have said about FDR’s New Deal, which most of your constituents have greatly benefitted from for generations, which helped bring us OUT of the Great Depression – a depression outrageous levels of inequality and policies like the ones you support helped get us into.
A refresher: The New Deal included the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Civil Works Administration (CWA), the Farm Security Administration (FSA), the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 (NIRA) and the Social Security Administration (SSA)…
…It provided support for farmers, the unemployed, youth and the elderly…
…It included new constraints and safeguards on the banking industry… and efforts to re-inflate the economy after prices had fallen sharply…
You would’ve HATED it.
As for the specifics of the Green New Deal you mock, let’s talk about what you actually said:
“The visionaries behind this massive bill are hoping to eliminate air travel, gut and rebuild every building in America, eliminate 99% of cars, eliminate nuclear energy and ban affordable energies like natural gas.”
This is obviously a childish over-exaggeration and mischaracterizes it completely. Hard not to wonder if you’ve even actually read it.
The Green New Deal isn’t a bill. It’s a non-binding resolution. A set of goals. A starting point, and a good one.
It’s a broad outline of how to achieve objectively positive, popular outcomes like universal health care, truly full employment, and 100% renewable energy- lifting up people who need lifting up in very real ways.
And you’re against all of it.
Nobody is eliminating planes. Nobody is eliminating cars.
The fact that you have to resort to these untruths about what the Green New Deal actually is just goes to show how little the truth actually means to you.
On Universal Health Care, which every single industrialized nation has except for us, you seem to have no use for it whatsoever. There are a number of different ideas about how to get to Universal Health Care – where people would be able to see a doctor when they get sick rather than a bankruptcy attorney – and you support none of them.
Instead you talk about Health Savings Accounts, which sound nice but do nothing to cover more vulnerable Tennesseans, and you support Block Grants, which do nothing to help rural hospitals (and also happen to be illegal and are opposed by Children’s hospitals).
Meanwhile Tennessee loses nearly $4 Million every DAY by not expanding Medicaid, which was in large part your handiwork, keeping hundreds of thousands uninsured and letting rural hospitals close.
Governor Haslam calls it one of his biggest regrets.
Meanwhile, you mock others who try to actually address the problem.
This is what you – a doctor – had to say about Bernie’s “Medicare For All” plan, which is just one of a number of ideas about how to get to universal coverage:
“Cautious estimates of the cost of Sanders’ plan start at $32.6 trillion dollars over the next 10 years. Even if we implement the most aggressive tax plan to seize and redistribute wealth from the top 1 percent we only raise $720 billion over 10 years, or 2 percent of what Medicare for All costs. And, keep in mind our revenue over that same period will only be approximately $40 trillion – unless, of course, this bill is passed and we tailspin towards a second Great Depression.”
Newsflash Doc, much of this country is already hurting. I know you spent much of our race in hiding, but if you had come to Columbia when Remote Area Medical was in town you would’ve seen hundreds of people lined up in a parking lot at 5AM just to see a doctor- because they literally couldn’t afford to get care any other way.
NEW VIDEO: “Richest Country in World”
It’s great @ramusaorg exists, but it’s sad that they’re so sorely needed right here in at home. We need to get everyone in 🇺🇸 covered.
— Justin Kanew (@Kanew) July 16, 2018
Remote Area Medical visited Knoxville recently too:
@mswontheroad Hi Michael, we’d love to talk to you about this photo you took at the Remote Area Medical event in Knoxville, and also get your permission to use it in a story. Feel free to follow back for a DM if you like! pic.twitter.com/Vg1KLKBu3v
— Grit Post (@grit_post) February 11, 2019
Over half this country can’t withstand a $400 emergency without going broke.
This is not how it should be in the richest country in the world. I challenge you to go to one of these RAM sites and tell these families you’re the one who “led the fight” to keep them from having health coverage.
As for the cost of Medicare For All – you convenienently left out that it would mean NO MORE PREMIUMS OR DEDUCTIBLES, and that what we have now is ALREADY too expensive.
We spend 18% of our GDP on Health Care while the next highest country spends 12%, and that $32.6 Trillion number you cited is actually LESS than the estimates of what our current system costs, according to a conservative think tank’s estimate.
Another gross mischaracterization.
Not to mention the savings that would come from suffering Tennesseans being able to see a doctor before their ailments get worse and more expensive.
I happen to believe we need something like our education system, where everyone has access to a baseline of Medicare or something like it (a la public schools), and then those who can afford it can buy private insurance for themselves (a la private schools).
But we need to cover everyone. It’s time.
Which brings us to your first point, which I’m saving for last because I find it the most gruesome. This is what you said about the Democratic position on “late-term abortion”:
“Let’s begin with infanticide. Are Democrats truly accepting killing babies outside the womb now? A Democrat head of a state, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, last month casually defended it.
He explained to radio listeners that an infant already delivered “would be kept comfortable” while a mother and doctor discussed letting the child die. When pressed for clarification, he explained that the scenario he envisioned involved a baby with deformities.
Assuming he meant Down syndrome or something similar – this is an outrageous claim. If you go and ask people with Down syndrome – they think they’re life is worth living.”
I’ll start with a concession: Northam’s words were clumsy.
No, Democrats should not be for “killing babies outside the womb”, as you put it. And they are not. No Democrat I know is for infanticide.
But nonviable births are not “infanticide”.
Do you know a mother who has gone through something like that, Mark? I do. A good friend of mine.
I challenge you to call her a murderer to her face, if that’s what you believe. She’s in Lawrenceburg. She lives with the pain of losing a child every single day. You’ve met her.
You say “assuming he meant Down syndrome or something similar” – that’s one HELL of an assumption, doc. For a doctor, no less.
You know damn well that’s not what a nonviable birth is.
So yes, Democrats are AGAINST “killing babies outside the womb” and “late term abortions”.
We’re also AGAINST forcing women who have been raped to carry their rapist’s baby to term… and FOR expanding medicaid… and FOR common sense gun safety legislation… and FOR making birth control available… and FOR subsidizing day care for low income women… and FOR raising the wage to a living one… and FOR real tax reform that will put more money in the pockets of your constituents rather than corporations and the wealthy.
These are all “pro-life” positions. You’re against ALL of them.
And every last one of them has the support of a vast majority of Americans.
Who’s the “Radical” again?
You mock these ideas as “socialism”, which either means you failed civics, or you’re not quite as committed to the truth as you say you’d like Michael Cohen to be.
You also mock the idea of giving jobs to those willing to work to rebuild our country, which is another popular idea (as is The Green New Deal by the way!) and you do it in the name of *fiscal responsibility* while the president you refuse to criticize has exploded the deficit to hand tax cuts to people who need it the least – like him, and you.
So in summation: If a “leftward march” means supporting health care for the people of our district, dealing with inequality in a real way to help real Tennesseans, and addressing the issue of climate change head-on for the sake of our children rather than burying our heads in the sand at the behest of the Koch brothers… then count me all the way in.
It’s not a “leftward” march. It’s a forward march.
I’ll take progress over greed any day of the week.
As this country gets younger and more inclusive, this is what the people want. Just because you call it “socialism” doesn’t make it so.
In the meantime, enjoy the $8 Billion farmer bailout that you for some reason don’t count as “socialism”, and the constitution-shredding *national emergency* you support. I’m sure the Fort Campbell School and other Clarksville-area projects it would take $132 Million from will be just fine.
So if by “Radical” you mean we support drastic measures to address the significant challenges we face, then yes we’re the radicals. But if by “Radical” you mean extremely out of step with the majority of this country – and yes, Tennessee – on most of these issues, then it’s you who is the “Radical”, sir.
Wanting to help people isn’t “Radical”, Mark. “Radical” is blocking medicaid expansion while saying government programs give suffering Tennesseans the opportunity to know God.
And history will not remember the Radical things you’re doing here kindly.
(P. S. – I enjoy that you cited Obama as a centrist at the end of your op-ed. Nice to see you’ve dropped your birtherism act. You, sir, are no John Mccain – no wonder he helped block your Army Secretary bid. Not even getting to a senate hearing with a Republican-controlled congress? Talk about “Radical”.)
Today Tennessee Republicans passed the “Heartbeat Bill”, which would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected – generally around 6 weeks into a pregnancy – by a 67-21 vote, with 7 abstentions.
The bill makes no exceptions for rape or incest, meaning even a teenager impregnated after being raped by her basketball coach would have to carry the baby to term.
Rep. Micah Van Huss, who carried the bill, famously said he “could not find the evil” in that scenario.
The passage of the bill was contentious. Rep. London Lamar stood up and objected, saying as the only woman of child-bearing age she should have more say over what happens to her body than the mostly male TN House.
From Rep. Lamar London:
Rape and incest are inhumane. No woman should have to carry her rapist child. Not only would this cause the woman to seek illegal and unhealthy means to get rid of the child, but you also will physically, mentally and emotionally harm the woman and child.
— State Rep. London Lamar (@LondonLamarTN) March 7, 2019
Rep. Gloria Johnson also stood to talk, and was the only female Rep with an amendment scheduled to be heard, but was ignored, as was her amendment for the bill which would have allowed for exceptions in the cases of rape and incest.
Republicans prevented Rep. Johnson from speaking up for Tennessee’s women. What are they afraid of?
Needless to say, REP. GLORIA JOHNSON WILL NOT BE SILENCED. pic.twitter.com/wJM15pWQFT
— Michael Stewart (@RepMikeStewart) March 7, 2019
Johnson followed all the protocol to have her amendment heard, and it was on the schedule, but Speaker Casada – who has admitted that he has taken the lead on this legislation in the hopes that it will end up in front of the Supreme Court – adjourned, then came back and ignored Johnson’s amendment.
When I got to my desk on the floor this morning, this packet was on my desk and every desk on the floor. Please note “Amendments that will be heard on the calendar today.” My bill is there. They recessed and Speaker refused to hear my amendment. Then refused to allow me to speak. pic.twitter.com/Tvl8zoUZEk
— Gloria Johnson (@VoteGloriaJ) March 7, 2019
These bills are unconstitutional, as even the committee lawyer admitted.
Women were outside in the hallway protesting the bill loudly.
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) March 7, 2019
Here are some other reactions:
State Senator Jeff Yarbro:
This is a bill so obviously unconstitutional that TN Right to Life opposed it. Legislators are bound to uphold the Constitution, and today’s vote wasn’t that.
Rather than spending state $ defending an invalid law, maybe we could focus on improving the lives of citizens. https://t.co/mV3zWQ5eIC
— Jeff Yarbro (@yarbro) March 7, 2019
State Rep. John Ray Clemmons:
Today, my colleague @VoteGloriaJ was prepared to stand tall & speak up for TN women’s access to reproductive #healthcare services. Unfortunately, she and others, including me, were prevented from speaking & asking the sponsor of fetal heartbeat bill questions. pic.twitter.com/XljJEZFxqr
— John Ray Clemmons (@JRClemmons) March 7, 2019
If you believe Speaker Casada silencing Rep. Johnson was wrong, and that women should have a say in what happens to their bodies, holler at him HERE.