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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.

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:

CHANNEL 5: What Did Gov. Lee Know About the Vouchers Bribe?

Channel 5’s report on Governor Lee’s possible involvement with disgraced speaker Glen Casada offering a military promotion to Rep. Windle as a bribe for a key vote on his public school-harming vouchers bill. ‬

‪Lee’s office claims to have ZERO texts from the day, won’t share emails either.‬ 🤔

VIDEO: Governor Lee CONFRONTED Over Medicaid Expansion

Watch Governor Lee get confronted recently in Meigs County about not expanding Medicaid by Anna Grabowski, whose friend she says might be alive otherwise.

Tennessee leads the nation in medical bankruptcies and rural hospital closures, and has lost $7 Billion and counting as a result of this purely political decision.

GOV. LEE SIGNS FIRST KKK GRAND WIZARD DAY PROCLAMATION

From the Tennessean today:

Gov. Bill Lee has proclaimed Saturday as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in Tennessee, a day of observation to honor the former Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader whose bust is on display in the state Capitol.

Per state law, the Tennessee governor is tasked with issuing proclamations for six separate days of special observation, three of which, including the July 13 Forrest Day, pertain to the Confederacy.

There have been repeated protests of the bust of Forrest, the KKK’s first Grand Wizard, which is still featured prominently in the Tennessee state legislature to this day.

The Tennessean reports that Lee said “I signed the bill because the law requires that I do that and I haven’t looked at changing that law.”

They also remind us that Lee was found to have worn confederate uniforms in college, which he now says he regrets:

Lee earlier this year said he regretted participating in “Old South” parties at Auburn University nearly four decades ago as part of Kappa Alpha Order, a fraternity that lists Robert E. Lee as its “spiritual founder.”

The governor, a college student at the time, was also pictured in an Auburn yearbook dressed in a Confederate Army uniform, a common practice for members of the fraternity at the time.

“I never intentionally acted in an insensitive way, but with the benefit of hindsight, I can see that participating in that was insensitive and I’ve come to regret it,” Lee said in February.

Lee has said he may be open to “adding context” to the statue rather than removing it, but has done nothing to pursue that.

Rep. Bob Freeman has proposed replacing it with a women’s suffrage statue, and has vowed to introduce that legislation in the next session.

Holler at your reps to support Freeman’s legislation, and holler at Governor Bill Lee if you think he should not be reaffirming Nathan Bedford Forrest Day.

CHAINING PREGNANT WOMEN TO CHAIRS

Below is Channel 5’s new report on Clay County jail shackling pregnant women to chairs for days at a time.
Not mentioned in the report: State Senator Raumesh Akbari and Rep. Karen Camper had a bill to rein in this heinous practice, but it was VOTED DOWN by Republicans Rep. Andrew Farmer, Justin Lafferty for State Representative 89th District, and Rep Chris Todd
 
While Gov. Bill Lee & the GOP supermajority tell us how great things are in Tennessee, Clay County just lost their hospital and their jail is so poor they’re shackling pregnant women for extending periods. #RealStateOfTheState
 
Holler at Farmer, Todd, and Lafferty if you disagree with what they did.

MORALLY INEPT: Byrd Lies to A Reporter, Lee Avoids Doing the Right Thing (again)

There was a sequence of events yesterday that was so ridiculous we just wanted to make sure to connect the dots for everyone.

As you all know by now, here in Tennessee we have a state representative named David Byrd who apologized on tape to one of 3 women who say he sexually abused them when he was their basketball coach in high school.
Despite hearing the tape, and hearing Byrd apologize for what he had done, Speaker Glen Casada helped Byrd get re-elected by attacking the victims as “fake news”, and then promptly made Byrd chair of an education subcommittee after he won.
Casada would later remove him, only after a group of brave women relentlessly pointed out that it was a disgusting thing to do (and only after Byrd went against Casada on a key vote to help Governor Lee privatize public schools dollars through his school voucher program).
During the ordeal, Speaker Casada lied to The Holler about meeting with the victims. Governor Lee actually did meet with one of them, and then finally, 70 days later – only after Speaker Casada went up in flames and agreed to stop being speaker – Governor Lee said he believed the victims… but stopped short of asking Byrd to resign.
That brings us to just this week, when brave Tennessean Anna Grabowski confronted Lee, asking him to get Byrd out of the legislature. Lee told her it would happen “soon”, seeming to imply Byrd would be expelled at the upcoming special session to remove speaker Casada in August.
WATCH:

Wonderful! Better late than never, right? Finally it seemed Governor Lee was going to do the right thing and get the Tennessee Republican supermajority to expel David Byrd (aka Tennessee’s Jeffrey Epstein) during the special session in August.
Not so fast.
The same day we posted that video (yesterday), Governor Lee then spoke to the Tennessean and told them he wasn’t asking Byrd to resign, and Byrd wouldn’t be expelled at the special session. Instead, Lee told them he had called David Byrd and asked him not to run again… in 18 months.
In other words, Governor Lee believes the victims, and believes David Byrd did sexually abuse those children, but he’s willing to let him stay in office for nearly TWO MORE YEARS. 
Not only that, but Lee also told channel 5 news that when Anna Grabowski asked him to get the “child molester” out of office, Lee thought she was asking him about Speaker Casada, and he says he was talking about removing him as speaker, not expelling Byrd.

This is literally impossible to believe. Anna was 1 foot from him. The exchange is clear.
On top of that, when AP reporter Kim Kruesi reached out to Rep. Byrd to ask him if Lee had in fact asked him not to run again, Byrd told her that wasn’t true.

Byrd then immediately tried to backtrack and say it was a “private conversation” he had had with Lee. But it was too late. He had already outed himself on the record to a reporter as a liar, while also essentially calling Governor Lee a liar.
So, TO RECAP: Governor Lee almost did the right thing, only to find a way to do the wrong thing, then lied about why he seemed to almost do the right thing… while Byrd lied about Governor Lee doing the wrong thing and essentially called the Governor a liar.
Got all that?
Bottom Line: The truth does not matter to these people.
Meanwhile, Byrd is still in office, as is Speaker Casada, and Governor Lee manages to show us his true colors daily, putting his moral incompetence and inability to actually do the right thing on full display.
This one should’ve been easy all along. Child sex abuse should not be a partisan issue.
Byrd must go. And he should take speaker Casada with him. Holler at Governor Lee if you agree.

VIDEO: Lee Says Byrd Will Be Gone “Soon” (But Didn’t Actually Mean It)

Here’s Governor Lee yesterday telling Anna Grabowski Rep. David Byrd will be gone “soon”.

He has since said he didn’t mean soon, he meant he asked him not to run again – meaning he believes Byrd to be guilty of the child sex abuse he’s accused of, yet is willing to let him serve out his term anyway. Wonderful!

Meanwhile Byrd told a reporter Lee did NOT ask him not to run again… before then trying to walk that back.

So. Much. Moonwalking.

So. Little. Leadership.

INTERVIEW: Andy Spears of the TN Ed Report on Voucher Vultures

Here’s a new Facebook Live interview from this morning with Andy Spears of the TN Education report.

Andy talks about the #VoucherVultures descending on Nashville thanks to Governor Bill Lee’s new legislation, and what we can do to push back against Lee’s all-out assault on public schools.