TN Complying With SCOTUS Same-Sex Marriage Ruling: Governor, AG

Gov. Bill Haslam issued a statement Friday pledging that state government departments “will comply…as quickly as possible” with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that appears to nullify a “marriage protection amendment” added to the Tennessee Constitution a decade ago.

“The people of Tennessee have recently voted clearly on this issue,” Haslam said of the same-sex marriage ban voters overwhelmingly ratified in 2006. “The Supreme Court has overturned that vote.”

Media outlets across the state reported a rush among same-sex couples to obtain legal nuptials from duly authorized government officials in wake of the ruling.

On a 5-4 vote in the case of  Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Ronald Reagan appointee, joined the court’s liberals — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — in declaring that states cannot ban same-sex marriages and also must recognize such marriages performed in other states.

Tennessee was among the states, along with Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky, where prohibitions against same-sex marriage recognition were under challenge before the high court.

Writing for the majority, Kennedy observed that society’s assumptions about marriage have been subject to modified over the ages. But marriage remains, he wrote, “a keystone of the Nation’s social order.”

“Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations,” he contended.

“The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest,” Kennedy said. “With that knowledge must come the recognition that laws excluding same-sex couples from the marriage right impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter.”

Kennedy wrote that it has become apparent to the 5-member majority that the state laws in question “burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and it must be further acknowledged that they abridge central precepts of equality.”

They therefore concluded that “the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.”

“The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry,” wrote Kennedy. “No longer may this liberty be denied to them.”

The bottom line, he wrote, is that a majority on the court believes “same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States.”

“It follows that the Court also must hold—and it now does hold—that there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character,” Kennedy wrote.

In his dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged “strong arguments rooted in social policy and considerations of fairness” advanced in the majority opinion.

Nevertheless, Roberts remarked, “this Court is not a legislature.”

“Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be,” wrote Roberts, who just a day before the Obergefell v. Hodges came down released a controversial opinion of his own on the Affordable Care Act. As a result of his reasoning in King v. Burwell, the chief justice — who was appointed by George W. Bush — was himself accused by critics of reconfiguring statutory language to suit a desired outcome.

Quoting Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers, Roberts proclaimed, “The people who ratified the Constitution authorized courts to exercise ‘neither force nor will but merely judgment’.”

State’s Arguments Slain, Slatery Vows to Bow to SCOTUS

In the wake of oral arguments before the Supreme Court back in April, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery issued a statement reiterating his desire to see the justices leave decisions about marriage recognition to individual states.

“This has been the longstanding province of the states and our position is that it should stay that way,” said Slatery, adding that “citizens of the state (should) vote and decide such important issues.”

On Friday afternoon, Slatery issued an opinion blasting the ruling.

The majority’s order “not only changes the definition of marriage, but takes from the states and their citizens the longstanding authority to vote and decide what marriage means,” Slatery said in a prepared statement.

“To the Tennessee citizen who asks, ‘Don’t we get a chance to vote on this in some way?’ the answer from the Supreme Court is a resounding, ‘No, you do not’,” Slatery continued. “For the court to tell all Tennesseans that they have no voice, no right to vote on the issues is disappointing.”

All the same, the attorney general committed his office to “take the necessary steps to implement the decision.” In a press conference Friday afternoon, Slatery advised that government marriage-license issuers should refrain henceforth from discriminating against same-sex couples.

Issue Appears Partisan Now, But Wasn’t Always

The Tennessee Republican and Democratic Parties issued sharply differing reactions to the ruling after it was released Friday.

“With today’s decision we see that love and respect has triumphed and we rejoice knowing that every person has the right to marry the person they love,” TNDP chair Mary Mancini said in a press release statement. “Today is a day that Democrats celebrate with those couples as they build strong families while securing a future for themselves, in Tennessee and across our nation.”

butt scotus2Ryan Haynes, chairman of the Tennessee GOP — which dominates state and congressional elected offices — lamented the court’s invalidation of the apparent will of the people.

“Tennesseans overwhelmingly voted to define marriage as between one man and one woman,” Haynes said. “If a change was to be made, it should have been allowed to play out through the democratic process but, unfortunately, today’s judicial activism short-circuits that ability. While this has long been pushed by the Democrats’ agenda, the issue is far from settled.”

In fact, both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly were controlled by Democrats when it voted twice on lopsided tallies in favor of altering the state’s constitution to limit legal marriages to “one man and one woman.” Among the co-sponsors of the gay-marriage ban, which won approval in 2004 and 2005, were Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley, the present-day House minority leader, and former Rep. Mike Turner of Old Hickory, who in the past served as House Democratic Caucus chairman.

Mike Turner and Craig FitzhughTwo-term Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat who preceded Haslam, supported the same-sex marriage ban when it won ratification before voters in 2006, the same year he won re-election to the state’s highest elected office.

In a statement issued Friday afternoon, Fitzhugh indicatd he’s altered his perspective over the years. While he understands how “emotionally charged” the debate over same-sex marriage has been, the ranking House Democrat said he supports the Supreme Court’s decision.

“I firmly believe that civil marriage is a fundamental right for all people, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation and that there should be no governmental interference with the bond that two loving people have for each other,” Fitzhugh said. “Today’s Supreme Court decision affirms this founding principle.”

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of IRS on Obamacare Exchange Subsidies

(Note: This post will be updated with reactions from Tennessee advocates, organizations and elected officials throughout the day)

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that the Obama administration’s interpretation and implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is close enough for government work.

Writing for the court’s 6-3 majority, Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged that the plain wording of the ACA relating to whether or not participants in federal health insurance exchanges should receive subsidy tax credits “is properly viewed as ambiguous.”

But despite the ambiguity, the court concluded that the Internal Revenue Service validly interpreted the law when it deemed that all Americans are potentially eligible for the coverage subsidies, regardless of whether they are enrolled in state- or federally run exchanges.

An estimated 6.4 million Americans will hence get to keep their subsidies if they obtained government-approved medical insurance through Healthcare.gov.

“In a democracy, the power to make the law rests with those chosen by the people. Our role is more confined — ‘to say what the law is’,” wrote Roberts, citing the seminal Marbury v. Madison case, an early 19th Century Supreme Court opinion that’s generally regarded as the cornerstone of judicial review. “That is easier in some cases than in others. But in every case we must respect the role of the Legislature, and take care not to undo what it has done. A fair reading of legislation demands a fair understanding of the legislative plan.”

Roberts concluded that the Democratically controlled Congress that passed the Affordable Care Act did so “to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.”

“If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter,” continued Roberts, who back in 2012 provided the swing vote in favor of upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s individual insurance mandate.

In the King v. Burwell opinion released Thursday, Roberts concluded that, taken in the context of the whole law, the disputed provision of the ACA that seems to grant subsidies only for participants of state-run exchanges can in fact “fairly be read consistent with what we see as Congress’s plan, and that is the reading we adopt.”

Critics of the Affordable Care Act, which became law in March of 2010, argued that the phrasing of the ACA clearly indicates health-insurance subsidies should be available only to participants of health insurance exchanges “established by the State” — and by extension, not the federal government’s exchanges.

During congressional debate over Obamacare, it was anticipated that most if not all states would create their own online exchanges for citizens to purchase subsidized insurance. In fact, though, only 13 states now run their own exchange “marketplace” websites for individual health insurance coverage.

Tennessee is among the 18 states that have left creation of an exchange entirely to the federal government. In total, 36 exchanges are administered in some capacity by the federal government under the Affordable Care Act.

In a derisively worded dissent joined by conservative justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia wrote that the court’s majority had essentially added words to the statute, and in so doing expanded the scope of the law beyond its established limits.

“The Court holds that when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act says ‘Exchange established by the State’ it means ‘Exchange established by the State or the Federal Government’,” declared Scalia. “That is of course quite absurd, and the Court’s 21 pages of explanation make it no less so.”

Later in his dissent, Scalia wrote:

“Words no longer have meaning if an Exchange that is not established by a State is ‘established by the State.’ It is hard to come up with a clearer way to limit tax credits to state Exchanges than to use the words ‘established by the State.’ And it is hard to come up with a reason to include the words ‘by the State’ other than the purpose of limiting credits to state Exchanges.”

In the majority’s opinion, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that “the meaning of the phrase ‘an Exchange established by the State under (the ACA)’ may seem plain” on its own. But such a reading is “untenable” when weighed against the entirety of the law.

“In this instance, the context and structure of the Act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase,” wrote Roberts.

Below are some reactions to the Supreme Court’s ruling from Tennessee politicians and organizations:

Press release from the Democratic Party of Tennessee:

Nashville, Tenn. (June 25, 2015) — Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini released the following statement after the Supreme Court’s ruling on King v.Burwell regarding the Affordable Care Act:

“We are relieved for the nearly 200,000 Tennesseans who will continue to have access to affordable health care. It’s clear that the Supreme Court justices did the right thing in looking at the intent of the law rather than siding with a twisted interpretation of individual phrases.

The Affordable Care Act has saved lives and will continue help build a healthier America. The TNDP will continue to work to ensure every Tennessean has access to affordable health care, especially those in the “insurance gap” left by the Republican failure to pass Insure TN. For Democrats, the fight for strong families and effective government is not over, even with this ruling.”

Press release from the Republican Party of Tennessee:

NASHVILLE, Tenn.–Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes released the following statement regarding the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell:

“ObamaCare was created, passed, and implemented on a party-line basis. Democrats essentially shoved this down the throats of Americans and it is disheartening to see the Court develop another avenue to keep this hurtful law alive. Individuals and businesses are struggling under this law. Republicans are going to continue offering solutions to actually drive health care costs down and make quality health care accessible once again—which is the exact opposite of what Americans have gotten under this flawed law.”

Statement from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee:

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 25 – Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today released the following statement on the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell:

“It’s unfortunate that the Supreme Court didn’t read the law the way that Congress wrote it. The 36 percent increase in some individual health care rates announced recently should remind Tennesseans that Obamacare was an historic mistake. It gave Americans higher health care costs while reducing our choices of health plans, doctors and hospitals. Republicans are ready to reduce the cost of health care so more people can afford it, put patients back in charge, and restore freedom and choice to the health care market.”

Statement from U.S. Sen Bob Corker, R-Tennessee:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) released the following statement regarding the Supreme Court’s decision on King v. Burwell.

“Today’s ruling affirms that it is up to Congress to come together around a responsible solution that provides relief from the damaging effects of the president’s health care law, including policies to provide far greater choice in the marketplace so affordable plans that meet the actual needs of Tennesseans can openly and effectively compete for their business,” said Corker.

Corker voted against passage of the health care law and has voted for legislation to repeal it.

Statement from U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tennessee 1st District: 

WASHINGTON D.C. – Today, Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN) released the following statement on the King v. Burwell Supreme Court ruling:

“The president’s health care bill is so deeply flawed it cannot be fixed, and today’s ruling does not change that fact. Folks around the country are still struggling because of ObamaCare, and I will continue the fight to bring certainty to the American health care system and to transition away from this monstrosity to a patient-centered, market-based health care system.”

Statement from U.S. Rep. John Duncan, R-Tennessee 2nd District:

“The President and his supporters assured us many times that Obamacare would save the average family $2,500 a year.  Instead, most people have seen their premiums and other health care costs go way up.  Unfortunately, this ruling leaves Obamacare in place and preserves the status quo of rising prices and a declining quality of medical care for everyone.  The only way to really bring costs down and make health care affordable for all is to go totally in the opposite direction away from government-run health care.”

Statement from U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tennessee 3rd District:

Fleischmann Agrees Supreme Court’s Ruling is Absurd

This morning, the Supreme Court released its ruling on King v. Burwell, upholding that subsidies are allowed in the federal marketplace despite language in Obamacare explicitly stating otherwise. After the decision, Rep. Fleischmann released the following statement.

“I agree with Justice Scalia that this decision is ‘quite absurd.’ While I am disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling, the decision today confirmed what we have said all along: Obamacare is a poorly written law that was not read by the Members of Congress who passed it. Although this is a setback, it is by no means the end of our fight. I will continue to work to repeal Obamacare and replace it with true free market healthcare reform that benefits hardworking families and businesses in East Tennessee.”

Press Release from U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tennessee 4th District:

Congressman Scott DesJarlais, M.D. (TN-04) released the following statement in response to the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision in King v. Burwell upholding tax subsidies issued by federally run exchanges:

“I am terribly disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling. As I have said from the beginning, this issue goes well beyond the Affordable Care Act and to the very heart of our constitutional separation of powers. The Supreme Court has further expanded executive power to the point where the White House now believes it has the ability to unilaterally change laws – a power exclusively reserved for Congress. Though subsidies have been preserved for less than 5 percent of individuals, it does not change the fact that the vast majority of Tennesseans will continue to face unaffordable premiums and deductibles, which are set to increase by double-digits next year. That is why it is imperative we continue in our efforts to repeal this law and replace it with patient-centered solutions that meet the needs of Tennessee seniors, small business owners, and middle-class families.”

Statement from U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tennessee 5th District:

Cooper Praises Supreme Court’s Health Care Ruling;
Says state must take next step and pass Insure Tennessee

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-5) today praised the Supreme Court for preserving federal subsidies that help an estimated 6.4 million Americans – including nearly 200,000 Tennesseans – pay for health insurance.

Cooper celebrated the ruling’s implications not only for those with federal subsidies, but also the insurance market and the preservation of benefits in the Affordable Care Act. For instance, health care insurers can no longer deny people for pre-existing conditions, and young adults can stay on a parent’s insurance plan until they turn 26.

Cooper also noted that the ruling removes a stated obstacle for passing Insure Tennessee.

“Tennessee legislators said they were waiting for the ruling,” Cooper said. “We now have it. They should finish the job and provide protection for all Tennesseans by passing Insure Tennessee.”

On Monday, Cooper will join a coalition of state and community leaders for a press conference on what’s next after today’s positive ruling.

Statement from U.S. Rep Diane Black, R-Tennessee 6th District:

Washington, DC– Today Congressman Diane Black (R-TN-06), a nurse for more than 40 years and member of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, released the following statement on the Supreme Court’s decision in King vs. Burwell:

“Today’s irresponsible Supreme Court decision does not change the fact that Obamacare is a fundamentally broken law that has failed to deliver on its most basic promises,” said Congressman Diane Black. “I am deeply disappointed that the court shirked its duty as a coequal branch of government by not acting to hold this President accountable for following his own laws, but my resolve to erase Obamacare remains stronger than ever. After today, one thing is certain: if this disastrous law is to be stopped, it will require strong leadership from Congress. We as conservatives must redouble our efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare. That is what Americans voted for at the ballot box last November and that is what they expect from us today.”

Press Release from U.S. Rep Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee 7th District:

Congressman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who serves as Vice Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, issued the following statement expressing her disappointment with the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell.

“While today’s Supreme Court ruling in King v. Burwell is extremely disappointing, it does not change the fact that Obamacare is broken and was passed based on a series of deliberately misleading promises,” Blackburn said. “The president’s health care law has led to higher costs with even higher costs coming. The law has failed to provide affordable healthcare to Americans. It is nothing more than a broken promise – an insurance card but not actual health care. The law is fundamentally flawed, and the court’s decision does not change our resolve to repeal it and replace it with patient-centered solutions that will increase access to affordable healthcare for all Americans. Much like TennCare, Obamacare will have to be fixed by the next Administration.”

Press Release from U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tennessee 8th District:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Stephen Fincher (TN-08) released the following statement after the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the President’s healthcare law in the case of King v. Burwell:

“Today’s ruling does not change the fact that Obamacare is still harmful to many Americans,” said Congressman Fincher. “Millions have been faced with higher premiums, lost coverage, reduced paychecks, and many other damaging side effects. My Republican colleagues and I remain committed to repealing this unworkable law and giving the American people what they asked for all along – real solutions that increase people’s access to quality and affordable healthcare.”

Background:
King v. Burwell was a case brought before the Court by David King against Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Secretary,  Sylvia Mathews Burwell, over subsidies used to purchase health insurance on federally established exchanges. King argued that, as written, Obamacare only provides for tax subsidies to individuals if they purchase health insurance through an “Exchange established by the State.” The Court upheld Secretary Burwell’s argument, allowing citizens of states without a state based exchange to utilize federal subsidies to purchase health insurance.

Statement from U.S. Rep Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee 9th District:

WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following statement reacting to the Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell ruling that upheld the health insurance subsidies provided to millions of Americans through the Affordable Care Act:

“This ruling affirms that the subsidies provided by the Affordable Care Act to our citizens are legal,” said Congressman Cohen. “I am pleased the Supreme Court has reaffirmed the law which is working and making health coverage affordable for millions of Americans, including more than 230,000 Tennesseans who are receiving an average of $213 each month through the law. I hope that this ruling will help the nation to see that the Affordable Care Act is a federal law that is keeping Americans healthy and alive, and that it is here to stay. I also remain hopeful that the Tennessee General Assembly will finally act to expand Medicaid so that our citizens can access the same benefits of the law that residents of other states do.”

Reaction from Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, reported by the Tennessee News Network:

“Number one, I’m surprised,I thought they would rule the other way.

“Number two, I’m disappointed in the sense that I really did think this would be an opportunity to fix some things in the law that were broken.

“Third, though, I am pleased for those folks who have insurance subsidies now and for the insurance companies that have a more predictable environment to operate in.

“So while philosophically I did not agree with the ruling, in terms of the smoothness of the market and people being able to obtain insurance in a predictable way, it’s good.”

Statement from Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville:

The Supreme Court today provided mere short-term relief to a long-term problem. While the Supreme Court decision will not result in millions losing their health coverage immediately, it is clear to everyone that deep and fundamental flaws in the law remain. I look forward to 2016 and electing a president who can appropriately assess the damage and chart a course away from Obamacare.

Statement from Tennessee House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley:

No more excuses on Insure Tennessee

Nashville, TN: House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh released the following statement on the Supreme Court decision in King v. Burwell:

“Regardless of your feelings about the Affordable Care Act, one of the most conservative courts in the history of this country has ruled–again–that it is the law of the land. There are no more excuses for this legislature or its leadership to ignore the 300,000 working men and women waiting on health care. We have work to do. It is my hope that the Governor and our speakers will call legislators back to Nashville immediately to work on passing Insure Tennessee.”

Statement from Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro of Nashville:

Supreme Court decision means 155,000 Tennesseans can keep their insurance, and one less excuse not to pass Insure Tennessee

The United States Supreme Court rejected another challenge to the Affordable Care Act today. That’s great news for two reasons.

First, Tennesseans can continue to receive tax credits and cost assistance when they purchase health insurance on the federal exchange. More than 155,000 individuals and families use that help to pay for their coverage.

Second, now that it is clear that the Affordable Care Act will continue to be the law of the land, there is a much better chance of passing Insure Tennessee.

Opposition to Insure Tennessee has always been part of a national effort to overturn the ACA. In fact, the leaders of the opposition to Insure Tennessee signed onto a brief urging the Supreme Court to gut the law. Now that we know the law will survive, we can hopefully do what is right for Tennessee.

  • Will we continue to force over 250,000 to go without insurance?
  • Will we continue to reject the infusion of $1 billion into the Tennessee economy — without one additional penny of taxes on Tennesseans?
  • Will we continue to put Tennessee hospitals and the jobs of our health care workers in jeopardy?
  • Will we continue to force doctors and hospitals to provide uncompensated care to the uninsured and pass those costs along to everyone else who has insurance?

We all understand that there is opposition to the ACA. But today’s decision confirms that it will continue to be the law. And it’s increasingly unlikely that Congress will repeal it. Repeal in part or in full has been proposed and rejected more than 50 times.

Study after study demonstrates that states that have expanded Medicaid have seen significant budget savings, revenue gains, and made greater health coverage gains while saving money.

You can rest assured that some opponents will find a new excuse to oppose Insure Tennessee. It’s like a bad game of whack-a-mole. Some will say that now we should wait until a new President is inaugurated – 19 months from now. But serious people should recognize that continuing to oppose the expansion of health coverage in Tennessee at this point isn’t remotely what’s in the best interest of Tennessee.

No more excuses. Contact our legislators and let them know it’s time to get serious about Insure Tennessee.

Press Release from the Republican Caucus of the Tennessee House of Representatives:

Below are statements from House Republican leadership following today’s King V. Burwell decision by the United States Supreme Court:

“The Supreme Court’s decision is both surprising and disappointing. However, there will be no interruption for Tennesseans who have insurance through the federal exchange and no major disruption to the state’s insurance marketplace. The Supreme Court’s ruling shows the Affordable Care Act is a federal program, and this gives the U.S. Congress the opportunity to address the significant problems with the law. With Tennessee’s TennCare waiver up for renewal next year, I hope HHS will be in a different posture to consider additional flexibility for our state Medicaid program and will consider block grants.” — Speaker Beth Harwell (R–Nashville)

“Obviously, I am disappointed with today’s Supreme Court ruling. ObamaCare has been a failed law from the start, and it is unfortunate that it has survived another legal challenge. I am hopeful that our elected officials in Washington will take action to repeal this law and replace it with something that will be beneficial for all citizens.” — Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R–Chattanooga)

“As the Speaker stated, this decision from the Supreme Court is both surprising and disappointing. Now, more than ever, it is time for us to stand firm and tell Congress that it needs to clean up its own mess. ObamaCare is Washington’s problem and it needs to be repealed by Washington. Here in Tennessee, we will continue our fight against federal government mandates in our personal lives as we look for additional ways to protect our state from this flawed law.” — Caucus Chairman Glen Casada (R–Thompson Station)

Tweets from Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis:

“I’m glad the Supreme Court rendered a ruling that preserves health insurance subsidies that hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans rely on.”

“Now that the SCOTUS has ruled, there are few excuses for not bringing Insure Tennessee for a debate and vote on the floor.”

Tweet from State Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown:

“For the 2nd time, the Sup Ct has rewritten ACA to uphold it. It will take the new Congress & a new pres to repeal the flawed ObamaCare law.”

Statement from State Rep. Bryan Terry, R-Murfreesboro:

“The Supreme Court has saved Obamacare yet again. In this ruling, they have given the IRS the power to rewrite laws passed by Congress. Absolutely ridiculous, not to mention dangerous.”

Statement from State Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville:

“The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled on King v. Burwell, and budget deficit arguments, as well as other reasons for opposition, have proven baseless.  No more excuses – we must act now on Insure Tennessee.  Further delay is harmful and inexcusable.  While the Governor and the majority in the state legislature sit on their hands quixotically awaiting political winds to change, hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans continue to needlessly suffer without access to affordable healthcare.  Thousands of Tennessee families sit around their dinner tables praying this week’s paycheck will not be their last.  Dozens of hospitals across the state remain in budgetary limbo doing whatever it takes to keep their doors open.
As elected officials, we have a duty to serve all the people of Tennessee.  Let us not forget that this is a duty each of us voluntarily placed upon our own shoulders.  The inexcusable failure to act immediately and effectively on this issue constitutes a breach of our public duty, and those responsible for this failure should be held accountable.”

Press Release from the Beacon Center of Tennessee:

Obamacare Subsidies Upheld by Supreme Court

Today, the Supreme Court determined that the IRS’s interpretation of the subsidy provision of the Affordable Care Act was lawful. Even though the plain wording of the Act provides that tax subsidies are available only for individuals who enroll “through an Exchange established by the State,” the IRS interpreted this provision to apply equally to states like Tennessee, where the federal government operates the exchange.

This decision underscores the need to continue working to make healthcare more affordable, effective, and protected from the arbitrary decisions of the IRS. It also means that thousands of small businesses and low-income Tennesseans who opt out of purchasing insurance will continue to be penalized by fines stemming from the individual and employer mandates—a scenario that could have been prevented if the Court had overturned the IRS rule.

Beacon CEO and attorney Justin Owen stated, “Despite the ruling today, we must find ways to make healthcare more accessible to all Tennesseans. Allowing the IRS to change the law to apply subsidies and penalties in states with no exchange means that the true cost of healthcare will continue to be disguised from consumers and shifted to someone else.”

Owen went on to note, “Obamacare has been proven to be unaffordable, unworkable, and unfair. We should not invite further consequences of this already failing law into our state by expanding Medicaid. Instead we should focus on real solutions that will help all Tennesseans obtain quality healthcare and the insurance plan they like. Examples include repealing the costly insurance mandate for all Americans, expanding charity care, embracing innovations such as telemedicine, and reforming the existing Medicaid program for those truly in need.”

 Press Release from the Tennessee Health Care Campaign:

Good Decision

Statement by Walter Davis, Executive Director of the Tennessee Health Care Campaign:

The Supreme Court was right to recognize that health reform provides tax credits for consumers in all states. Now it’s time for people on both sides of the aisle to accept that the law is working and take important steps to fully implement it.

Today is a good day for Tennesseans and all Americans. It is time for state and federal legislators to realize that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the law of the land. More than that, it is a law that is working for the good of all Americans. Fewer uninsured. Calming of price increases. Preventive care available to millions reducing the costs and lessening the risk of serious diseases.

The Supreme Court was right to recognize that health reform provides tax credits for consumers in all states. Now it’s time for people on both sides of the aisle to accept that the law is working and take important steps to fully implement it.

The Court made the right decision on the law, which is good for millions of people, including the Tennesseans who have gained coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s federal health insurance marketplace.

The Supreme Court found what should have been obvious from the beginning… the intent of Congress was clear and the ACA is clear that subsidies are available in both federal and state exchanges.

Millions of people, including 220,000 in Tennessee, would have lost their subsidies and been at risk of losing their coverage, and insurance markets would have been destabilized had the Court invalidated the subsidies contrary to what Congress intended when it passed the Affordable Care Act.

Likewise, Congress should now reject harmful, drastic, structural changes to Medicaid, such as a block grant or “per capita cap” which would be strangling Medicaid access over time.

Now Tennessee policymakers should recognize health reform is working, abandon efforts to undermine it, and instead take advantage of the opportunities that health reform offers to improve lives. The first step should be to expand Medicaid – or accept Governor Haslam’s Insure Tennessee.

States that have expanded Medicaid have seen large gains in the number of adults with health insurance and they are saving money in family budgets. Hospitals in expansion states are treating fewer uninsured patients, and the amount of “uncompensated care” they are providing is declining steeply. Tennessee has already lost nearly One and a Half Billion Dollars since the beginning of the ACA.

Tennessee has failed to expand Medicaid and is falling further behind, leaving thousands of people unnecessarily uninsured and without access to affordable health coverage.
Nationally, 3.7 million people are uninsured and without access to affordable health coverage because of states’ failure to accept available federal funds for Medicaid coverage for their residents.

In short, the Supreme Court got it right. Now it is time for Tennessee’s legislators, starting with the Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House to accept the law of the land. Make sure people needing help get it. Don’t make life more difficult for people who need insurance and now have a path to affording it. Speaker Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ramsey, this time do the right thing.

Press Release from Grant Starrett, Republican Candidate for United States Congress, 4th District:

(MURFREESBORO, Tenn.) – Today, Grant Starrett released the following statement on the King v. Burwell Supreme Court decision:

“I am disgusted that the Supreme Court has continued its tortured analysis of the Frankenstein law known as ObamaCare. This goes to show the importance of vetting and getting the right judges, especially when Republicans appoint them. Unfortunately, Chief Justice Roberts, who pledged to merely be an umpire, has shown that his strike zone varies considerably based on the issue before the court. He himself concedes that the court rejects the “most natural reading” of ObamaCare in order to uphold a law that is unaffordable – both for the government supervising it, and the people regulated by it. This ruling also goes to show the importance of electing the right people to repeal ObamaCare entirely and reorient our healthcare system toward a free market alternative.

“We recently learned that under ObamaCare, individual plans in Tennessee could see drastic premium increases next year. Tennesseans need a free market alternative to this unaffordable law, and they need someone in Washington who will fight for that alternative.
“In short, we need people who will actually do what they say they’re going to do – on the bench, and in Congress.”

Press Release from the Tennessee Medical Association:

TMA Statement on King vs. Burwell

The Supreme Court’s ruling today provides much-needed clarity for healthcare providers and patients in Tennessee.

The uncertainty surrounding tax credits and federal and state health insurance exchanges jeopardized patient care and was a potential disruptor to our healthcare system, especially for the nearly 156,000 Tennesseans who currently use federal subsidies to purchase health insurance on the federal exchange.

We can now all move forward with a continued focus on increasing access, delivering quality care and improving patient health.

Statement from the Tennessee Hospital Association:

“The King v. Burwell case has been one closely watched by hospitals across the country, but especially here in Tennessee. As we continue to provide services to more than 400,000 uninsured Tennesseans, maintaining coverage for the roughly 156,000 people in our state who have insurance through the federal Exchange with subsidized premiums is increasingly important.

“With today’s ruling from the Supreme Court, the future of federal subsidies for this coverage is secured and thousands Tennesseans will rest easier knowing they can continue to afford their monthly premiums.

“Our state’s hospitals are committed to caring for all people in our state, regardless of coverage status. However, in an era of significant reimbursement cuts and financial challenges, widespread insurance coverage is a critical issue for hospitals. As a result, the Supreme Court’s ruling is especially good news for our industry.

“THA and its members are grateful for today’s decision and its implication for the future of insurance coverage in our state and across the nation.”

Press release from the Tennessee Chapter of Americans for Prosperity:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Americans for Prosperity Tennessee issued the following statement in response to today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on the case King v. Burwell:

“We will not let politics be a distraction in the discussion on healthcare; our focus should be on people” said Andrew Ogles, state director of Americans for Prosperity Tennessee. “Today’s decision only adds to the anxiety of Tennesseans who have already been harmed by Obamacare’s burdensome mandates and out-of-control costs. Our efforts to encourage Congress to bring state-based and patient-focused reforms to healthcare will not stop.”

Multiple Facets to Debate Over Removal of Controversial Confederate General’s Bust from Capitol

A high-ranking Tennessee lawmaker who sponsored a 2013 law prohibiting removal of war-related monuments and memorials from public property opposes calls to get a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest out of the Statehouse.

Steve McDaniel, a Republican from Parkers Crossroads who serves as deputy speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, said Forrest is a notable figure in the state’s history, and the monument should remain where it is now, so that visitors to the Capitol can see it and “react” to it.

McDaniel said the basic purpose of the “Tennessee Heritage Protection Act” that he, along with Senate GOP Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, sponsored two years ago is to preserve articles of historical remembrance. The law itself was passed as a reaction to the the city of Memphis renaming a local park named after Nathan Bedford Forrest.

“It is there and it is part of our history — it is part of our Tennessee history and it is part of our national history,” McDaniel, who also chairs the House Ethics Committee, said of the Forrest bust at the Capitol in Nashville.

Steve McDaniel, square picIf items that commemorate people and episodes of history are removed because of contemporary political pressures, “we will start forgetting what our history is about, what happened,” said McDaniel, whose bio on the Tennessee General Assembly’s website says that his “interests include southern historic preservation.”

But a number of prominent Tennessee politicians of both partisan persuasions have indicated they in fact support banishing the bust. Their ranks include Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who in 2013 signed the “Tennessee Heritage Protection Act.” That law won approval in the GOP-dominated Legislature on vote tallies of 69-22 in the House and 26-3 in the Senate.

heritage protection actThe Heritage Protection Act contains different sections covering different types of monuments — and there may be some legal ambiguity, for example, as to whether the NBF bust constitutes a memorial to “the War Between the States,” or rather if it is a statue or monument to a “historical military figure.”

McDaniel acknowledged there may be some unintended uncertainty in the way the law is written regarding whether the Tennessee Historical Commission has authority to order the bust removed under a “waiver” provision in the statute. McDaniel said his “intent,” however, was that such decisions must come before the full Legislature.

Democrats generally opposed the Heritage Protection Act when it was up in the Legislature, particularly in the House.

McDaniel drew ire from minority-party and legislative Black Caucus members when he refused to add amendment language to the measure protecting monuments dedicated to 1960s Civil Rights Movement leaders and events. McDaniel said during floor debate at the time that he wanted to keep the measure “narrowed to Tennessee’s military history.”

In wake of the mass-homicide attack last week by a 21-year-old white gunman, apparently motivated by murderous racial animus, that left nine people slain at a black church in Charleston, S.C., there has been a political clamor across the South to purge symbols associated with the Confederacy from public spaces.

In several states, debate has centered around the Confederate flag. In Tennessee, outrage has focused more on commemorations of Forrest — the bust at the Capitol, a statue of the Confederate military commander on private property but highly visible along I-65 in Nashville, and the Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park in Benton County.

Hero or Hatemonger?

According to the online edition of The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, Nathan Bedford Forrest “established a reputation as one of the greatest cavalry generals of the Civil War.” He is described as “one of the finest Confederate cavalry commanders and one of the foremost military figures produced by the state of Tennessee.”

“(Forrest’s) ferocity as a warrior was almost legendary. His claim to have slain one more enemy soldiers in personal combat than the twenty-nine horses killed beneath him only added to the legend. Forrest understood, perhaps better than most, the basic premise of war: ‘War means fighting and fighting means killing’,” reports his entry in the Tennessee Encyclopedia, which is a joint project of the Tennessee Historical Society and the University of Tennessee Press.

“Despite a mere six months of formal education, Forrest rose from semi-subsistence to planter status, acquiring substantial property and wealth, largely through the slave trade,” it says of his pre-war years.

Also noted are two of the most controversial — some would argue notorious — aspects of his legacy.

Nathan Bedford Forrest portrait“Promoted to major general on December 4, 1863, Forrest conducted raids against Federal communications and supply lines in Tennessee. In April 1864 he captured Fort Pillow, north of Memphis. In the latter stages of that battle, Forrest lost control of his men. As members of the black and Tennessee Unionist garrison attempted to surrender, an act for which they should have been spared, some of Forrest’s men fired on them. Of the fort’s 585-605 men, between 277 and 297 were killed; 64 percent of these were U.S. Colored Troops. Charges of a ‘Fort Pillow Massacre’ became grist for Northern propaganda mills during the war and plagued Forrest for the remainder of his life.”

After the war, Forrest “embraced the Ku Klux Klan, assuming the role of the first Grand Wizard of the secret organization,” according to the Tennessee Encyclopedia.

“Through it he sought to restore white conservative Democrats to power. Even so, he never completely adjusted to the new realities of the postwar South,” the NBF entry continues. “In the 1870s Forrest’s health began to fail, and he died in Memphis on October 29, 1877.

Bipartisan Agreement: NBF Doesn’t Belong in Capitol

Present-day Democrats are among those leading the charge to erase Forrest’s name and likeness from government-owned property.

In a statement to the Tennessean, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Democrat and former state lawmaker, wrote, “Symbols of hate should not be promoted by government. South Carolina should remove the Confederate battle flag from its Capitol, and Tennessee should remove the bust of Forrest inside our Capitol.” In the same article, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, was quoted saying that “our Capitol should be representative of the people of Tennessee.” Fitzhugh said he believes more commemoration of women and African Americans is in order.

“Only those that represent the very best of Tennessee should be afforded such recognition in the halls of state government,” Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro of Nashville said in a statement Wednesday. “We can’t and shouldn’t sanitize our history, but we do have a choice about which individuals we honor and elevate as models to school groups touring the Capitol.”

A statement Wednesday from Tennessee’s 17-member Black Caucus of State Legislators, all of whom are Democrats, demanded “the removal of a bust of Confederate General and early Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest from the state capitol.”

The Black Caucus “fully supports the growing movement to remove racist symbols from places of prominence across the country,” read the statement, which added: “Since the tragic murder of nine African-American church members in South Carolina last week, a national debate has re-ignited about the appropriateness of these symbols being displayed, particularly the Confederate flag that currently flies in front of the South Carolina statehouse.”

Republicans lawmakers are voicing discontent with the NBF bust as well.

Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga sent a letter to the State Capitol Commission Tuesday declaring, “In light of recent events, I feel it is appropriate to reevaluate the current placement of the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest in our State Capitol.”

“Nathan Bedford Forrest’s military prowess and exploits in the Civil War have been well-documented,” wrote McCormick. “However, his background as a slave trader and a founding member of the Ku Klux Klan overshadows his contribution to our state’s history in the minds of many. Certainly, we should attempt to find the proper balance between honoring his military accomplishments versus his less positive attributes.”

haslam and gerald mccormick 2015McCormick is seeking “a recommendation from the Capitol Commission that Nathan Bedford Forrest’s bust be removed from its current location in our Capitol and be turned over to the Tennessee Historical Commission for an appropriate placement, perhaps in a Civil War setting in which his military service can be put in the proper perspective.”

“I realize that this is a passionate topic,” McCormick concluded. “I look forward to discussing this matter with each of you in a way that will reflect positively on our state at the next Capitol Commission meeting.”

McDaniel: Whitewashing History Wrong

A member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans who is active as a Civil War battlefield preservationist, McDaniel takes a more charitable view of Forrest than critics of the Capitol bust.

He called Forrest “a military genius.”

“That is the reason I admire him,” McDaniel said, adding that Forrest “is still studied today when you look at military tactics, his tactics are studied by our modern-day military.”

McDaniel said that “generally speaking” he regards Nathan Bedford Forrest as an honorable figure in the history of the American South. “You have to look at a person like him in the context of his time,” McDaniel said. “None of us today would ever condone slavery, but that was a different day and a different time. And so you have to do the best you can to judge someone in their time frame of when they lived.”

McDaniel said Forrest was cleared of allegations he committed what amounted to war crimes at Fort Pillow, and that his association with the KKK is somewhat misunderstood today.

“He was not a founder of the Klan” said McDaniel. “They founded the Klan and then placed the honor of being the top person — they asked Forrest to be the first grand wizard, which he accepted because of what they initially stood for. But he saw that they were not standing for the principles that he believed in, so he resigned and disbanded the Klan. And of course the Klan has come back many times, and most of the time they are waving the Confederate flag. And so those that appreciate history think that is very unfortunate that people have abused the intent of the Confederate flag.”

McDaniel noted that he draws a distinction between the debate over Nathan Bedford Forrest in Tennessee and controversies boiling with respect to the Confederate flag. “I wouldn’t be a proponent of flying the Confederate battle flag over any government building,” he said.

McDaniel said he does not oppose removing the bust on the grounds that any honest examination of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s life must necessarily prove he was a noble man. Rather, McDaniel said he thinks people should be free to draw their own conclusions and form their own opinions about him.

“If the Forrest bust is not there, then we remove part of history and people won’t have an opportunity to react one way or the other,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, sent a letter of his own to the Capitol Commission Wednesday urging the members “to begin the process of evaluating the characteristics of Tennesseans who should be honored in the Capitol Complex.”

Ramsey’s letter didn’t mention Nathan Bedford Forrest by name, but noted that “(t)hose honored in the Capitol should be those who accurately reflect the historic accomplishments of the Volunteer State and its people.”

“Under state law, the Tennessee State Capitol Commission is given the power to develop a master plan for the capitol building and its grounds and to determine its furnishings,” wrote Ramsey. “As such, we are writing to encourage you to begin the process of evaluating the characteristics of Tennesseans who should be honored in the Capitol Complex.”

Election Dates Set to Fill House Seat Vacated by Haynes

Special primary and general election dates have been set so that voters can select a replacement for former state Rep. Ryan Haynes of Knoxville, who resigned his seat last month after being tapped to chair the state Republican Party.

Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday issued a “writ of election” directing election officials in Knox County to hold a primary election Aug. 12 and a general election Sept. 29 for the Tennessee Legislature’s House District 14 slot.

There are 99 members in the lower chamber of the General Assembly. Minus Haynes, Republicans still hold 72 seats to the Democrats 26, which constitutes a comfortable supermajority for the GOP caucus.

At first glance, Democrats don’t look to have good odds of flipping the seat their way.

Haynes won reelection three times after first snagging the seat in 2008. Only once did he even face competition. In 2012 Haynes captured 75 percent of the district’s vote against Democratic challenger Jerome Miller.

The Knox County Administrator of Elections is currently issuing qualifying petitions, according to the secretary of state’s office. The deadline for filing is July 2. Early voting for the primary election will begin on July 23 and run through August 7.

Bush Gave TNGOP Preview of Campaign Platform

Jeb Bush is anticipated on Monday to formally kick off his candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Bush is scheduled to deliver a campaign-launch speech at a rally in Miami this afternoon. Bush has actually been a presumptive candidate for months — if not years — and his official entry into the crowded GOP field is mostly a legal formality.

The former Florida governor has been delivering speeches and elaborating his policy stances for some time, including just last month before an audience of state Republican politicians, activists and money people at a fundraiser in Nashville.

In his address to the 2015 “Statesmen’s Dinner” audience on May 30, Bush touted his “conservative” prescriptions for a post-Obama America.

The pillars of Bush’s platform that he outlined call for greater input from American business and industry in developing and enforcing federal economic and environmental regulations, and greater American military and diplomatic involvement in regional conflicts around the globe.

“Under the Obama administration, you can count on a single hand the number of people that actually have practical business experience,” Bush said. “They consider it a conflict when they put people in positions where the regulations take place. It’s a conflict if you actually have subject-matter expertise.

“The next president of the United States is going to have to reverse this trend of political hacks and academics, through executive orders and through hyper-regulation, trying to change our country,” he continued. “It is to restore a proper balance of government that you bring men and women that have business experience so that we can create the field of dreams again, where there’s more prosperity for more people, and less demands on government.”

Bush promised that if elected he’ll “apply conservative principles at home” which translates into efforts to “fix our tax system,” reboot the nation’s energy policy “so that we create high-wage jobs,” and decentralize education policy decisions. Education is “definitely a local and state prerogative,” said Bush, who is a strong proponent of school choice initiatives.

On the foreign policy front, Bush presented himself as a champion of military intervention — and Obama, as something an isolationist. “This president is the first president in the post World War II era that does not believe America’s power in the world, America’s presence in the world is a force for good,” he said.

Bush tied the United States taking a more aggressive role in overseas hotspots with economic expansion on the home front. “Our economy won’t grow over the long haul unless we participate in the world again,” said Bush.

He added, “Who is going to take care of the persecuted Christians and Jews all around the world? Who is going to create a stable world?”

In Bush’s estimation, a “conservative foreign policy” means “rebuilding” the military, which is a priority and vision he lauded Tennessee’s “great senators,” Republicans Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, for sharing.

“As we see the unraveling take place, whether it’s ISIS on the march in Syria and Iraq, or the Chinese building an artificial island 600 miles off their shore, or the Russians invading their neighborhood, we’re seeing the world unravel because America’s presence in the world is not there,” declared Bush. “And when we lead from behind — which is a term that seems so un-American to me — when we lead from behind, we leave behind our credibility. We leave behind our blood and treasure. We leave behind our friends. And we leave behind our security. We should never lead from behind. We should lead as we always have, because that is the way you create a more peaceful world. And that is how we can grow our economy so the middle can rise and people in poverty can be lifted up.”

Haslam on L’affaire Logo: Consistent State Gov’t Branding Image Needed

After addressing the matter Wednesday for the first time publicly since Watchdog.org broke the story last month, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam took a couple more questions from reporters Thursday on the controversial decision to pay an outside firm $46,000 to design a new state logo.

The governor said there really ought to be just one logo for state government agency use, and that’s by no means the case now.

“As a state, we have a 172 different logos, alright. One hundred and seventy-two,” said Haslam. He added that “over the last 20 years those have all been redesigned once or twice, but nobody pays attention to that because they are all spread out.”

The governor said it is common knowledge in professional marketing circles that uniformity in branding is important.

“We need to have a consistent source of identification for the state,” Haslam said after a grant-announcement ceremony on the campus of Chattanooga State Community College.

“We want people to look and if they see a truck driving down the road, or a building, and immediately know, that that’s the state of Tennessee,” he said.

Haslam was asked why the logo design assignment wasn’t given to a state employee rather than hiring an outside firm.

“We could have,” the governor replied. “Anybody can look at it and say ‘Well, I don’t like that logo.’ And you do that with new product logos all the time, right? One of the big questions that came up was why didn’t you just use the tristar that everybody likes so much. The issue is that’s not something we can trademark. If we have our own logo for identification, it needs to be something we can trademark.”

The controversy over the logo hit a nerve in the state. Both Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly have criticized the Haslam administration over on the issue — suggesting that the $46,000 pricetag didn’t seem a wise was to spend taxpayer resources.

“My granddaughter Marley Mac is working on her own version of a new logo for #TN,” tweeted House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley. “Only cost me a piece of gum.”

“We waste way too much time on the branding of ideas, not the ideas,” opined Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis.

Conservative West Tennessee Republican Andy Holt issued a press release in the days after the story broke slamming the administration for not broaching the matter with lawmakers beforehand.

“Almost $50,000 worth of taxpayer dollars were, in my opinion, wasted, and not a single tax-payer had a voice in the matter,” declared the Dresden state representative. “The bigger issue is how it was wasted. This was done behind closed doors. When questioned, journalists were initially met with resistance. Is this how we govern? If so, this reeks of Washington D.C. — Out of touch, and overpriced.”

Slatery: Legislators’ Health Coverage Financing is Public Information

Tennessee’s attorney general has weighed in on the dispute over disclosure of financial information related to health benefits that members of the state’s General Assembly receive.

Figures released to the media revealing how much that individual lawmakers pay for insurance coverage — and how much of their coverage costs in turn get picked up by taxpayers — is not “protected health information” under federal law, declared a June 5 opinion signed by Attorney General Herb Slatery and Tennessee Solicitor General Andrée Sophia Blumstein.

Protected health information “does not include — either in the general statutory definition, or as it is commonly understood — the kinds of records that were disclosed here, i.e., records that pertain only to insurance coverage and that have nothing to do with treatment, diagnoses, or medications, and especially not of any individually identifiable person,” according to the opinion.

Requested by Republican state Reps. Kevin Brooks of Cleveland and Rick Womick of Rockvale, the opinion was published on the attorney general’s website Monday.

It added that “the mere fact that any individual member or his or her family members participated in the State’s health insurance program cannot reasonably be deemed (protected health information), especially now when federal law requires every individual to have health care insurance coverage.”

But even if such information was confidential under federal law, Slatery and Blumstein wrote that Tennessee’s Public Records Act would, in effect, trump it. The federal privacy protections contain an exemption that allows for release of otherwise private information when “required by law,” the opinion stated.

In this case, the state’s Public Records Act indeed required it, Slatery and Blumstein wrote.

“The information released comes within the Act’s definition of ‘state record.’ It was made or received by the State as part of its official business, particularly as the employer of the members of the General Assembly,” the opinion reads. “The request for the information was made by citizens of Tennessee. The State was, therefore, required to make the information open for inspection, and those in charge of the records were required to make them available since state law does not provide otherwise.”

This spring media outlets in Tennessee used the Public Records Act to obtain tallies on government spending and premium contribution levels for the health coverage lawmakers receive as part-time employees of the state.

But legislators’ coverage doesn’t end when they leave office. Up to now, members have continued to receive benefits after retirement. And until recently they were allowed to keep their government-funded coverage even if they were removed from office for misconduct or convicted of illegal activity.

The Tennessean reported last week that data released by the state’s Department of Finance and Administration indicates sitting and retired lawmakers pay, on average, about 30 percent of the cost of their insurance plans, with taxpayers picking up the rest.

Romney in Nashville: State-by-State Solutions Still Best for Health Reform

Mitt Romney told an audience of insurance industry executives gathered in Nashville this week that he still thinks states, not the federal government, should be leading in the realm of health reform.

The Affordable Care Act, signed into law five years ago, encourages just the opposite, said the two-time Republican presidential candidate.

The ACA thwarts states from doing what makes the most sense for their own vulnerable populations, said Romney, who delivered a Thursday afternoon address before a national trade association called America’s Health Insurance Plans at the Music City Center.

Washington has imposed a one-size-fits-all solution on the entire country, and the result will be ever-increasing insurance premiums and a predominant sense of dissatisfaction Americans have with their coverage, said Romney, who hit upon and has refined some of the same points he made on the matter in his failed attempt to oust President Obama in the 2012 election.

The former Massachusetts governor was asked at the AHIP conference to talk about how some of the components of Obamacare mirror the state health-coverage overhaul he signed into law nearly ten years ago — an issue that dogged him in his White House bid.

Romney said he’s in fact “proud of what we did” with “Romneycare,” as the Bay State’s system of insurance mandates and coverage subsidies came later to be known.

“By virtue of what we did, we helped save lives,” Romney said. He added later, “I’m glad we did what we did, but I wish people would have listened to me when I said it is right for Massachusetts, it is not something that should be adopted by the entire country.”

Romneycare was tailored for Massachusetts alone, he said.

“What we did is we expanded private insurance, not government insurance, but private insurance to the people in my state who were uninsured,” he said. “Now, we had some unusual circumstances in Massachusetts, and what we crafted was with those unusual circumstances in mind.”

One of those circumstances peculiar to Massachusetts was that pricey minimum-benefit medical coverage plans were already mandated by the state when the reform package was passed in 2006. “You really couldn’t buy a stripped-down, catastrophic-care plan. You had to buy a gold-plated plan. And so as a result, Massachusetts health insurance was the most expensive in the nation, and still is,” said Romney.

As governor, Romney said he in fact tried to do away with the health-plan mandates that he believed unnecessarily elevated the cost of insurance, but was rebuffed by the legislature.

Requiring that health insurance plans include coverages that consumers don’t necessarily want or need makes even less sense in states where such mandates didn’t exist prior to passage of Obamacare, said Romney. The result of making citizens “purchase plans that look like Massachusetts plans,” will be that “premiums go through the roof,” he said.

Romney’s prediction on the issue is shared by the organization he spoke to, which notes on its website that, “The Affordable Care Act (ACA) expands access to coverage to millions of Americans, a goal health plans have long supported, but major provisions will raise costs and disrupt coverage for individuals, families, employers, and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.”

Romney said he still believes states need the flexibility to chart their own health-coverage courses. States that want to mandate a more comprehensive style of coverage should have the latitude to do so, and those that want to keep reform basic should be able to do that as well, he said.

“If people want to copy what we did in Massachusetts, fine. If Vermont wants to be a single-payer, let them try. If Texas wants to put in place a plan that has a health savings account-oriented plan or a catastrophic care plan instead, then let them try that,” Romney said. “If a state wants to use clinics as a away of providing care for low-income folks, let them try what they will.”

“Their objective will be to get everybody insured, cover prexisting conditions, but don’t put in place Massachusetts-style insurance requirements on the entire nation.”

“A lot of people lost their insurance that shouldn’t have — even though that was a promise not kept,” he said.

Also, higher premiums will result in a more aggressive push for a government-financed “public option,” Romney said. “I am concerned about them trying to move to a single-payer system — there are some who haven’t given up on that,” he said.

As for the government-run health programs already in existence prior to enactment of the Affordable Care Act, Romney said he’s frustrated by an apparent lack of commitment in Washington to modernize and restrain them so they don’t require ever deepening reservoirs of taxpayer resources to stay afloat.

“You might think in a circumstance like this that there would be great effort to try and reform those programs such that they don’t overwhelm the federal budget,” he said. “But of course there’s been no progress whatsoever on improving or reforming those programs to make them sustainable.”

Bill Clinton is scheduled to speak Friday to conclude AHIP’s three-day conference, although the former president’s address is closed to the press and public.

Haslam Touts GOP Commitment to Smaller Government

Bill Haslam, Tennessee’s Republican governor, talked up GOP political accomplishments at the state party’s annual fundraising gala in Nashville over the weekend. In particular, the former Knoxville mayor extolled devotion to fiscal conservatism and dedication to downsizing state bureaucracies, which he said his administration and the supermajority-controlled General Assembly share.

GOP lawmakers and his Republican administration “have actually cut taxes,” said the governor during his speech at the annual Statesmen’s Dinner. And over the same period, state government has socked away more than double the cash reserves in its rainy-day fund, Haslam told the 1,500 or so GOP activists, elected leaders and bankrollers gather at the Music City Center for the event.

“We have the lowest debt, per person, of any of the 50 states,” said the governor. “We have a budget that keeps getting better. Some people like to talk about small government. In Tennessee, we actually are making ours smaller. We are literally a smaller state government than when we came in four and a half years ago.”

Haslam credited Republican governance for enabling creation of “275,000 net new jobs — private-sector jobs — since (his administration) came in four and a half years ago.”

“The unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in seven years, and it is going to keep going down,” said the governor. Haslam added that he’s confident in such a prediction because of education reforms the state has implemented during his tenure.

“We are the only state in the country where every high school senior is guaranteed two years of community college, and every adult period is guaranteed free technical school so that they can prepare for the career of their choice,” said Haslam, referring to his “Tennessee Promise” program that the General Assembly approved last year.

Haslam went on to introduce the event’s keynote speaker, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whom Tennessee’s chief executive described as “thinking about considering the possibility of running for president.”

time to rise statesmens dinner tngopThe theme for TNGOP’s Statesmen’s Dinner, which raised a reported $600,000, was “Time to Rise.” Bush runs a super PAC called “Right to Rise.”

Haslam didn’t indicate whether he favor Bush over the rest of the GOP primary field, but he did suggest Bush is at least “qualified” to be Leader of the Free World.

“Governor Bush literally was one of the best governors that I can say of the last two decades — it is hard for me to go back further than that,” Haslam said. “But you can look at his record. Look at what he did with the state budget, in terms of really producing a conservative budget for eight years in a row. You can look at the job growth that happened in Florida that became sort of the envy of everybody during that time period.”

Haslam described the Sunshine State during and after Bush’s two gubernatorial terms from 1999 to 2007 as “one of he few states where the education results really did drastically improve, providing a better future for the citizens of Florida.”

“I have obviously been impressed with his record. But I am even more impressed with who he is as a person, who he is as a husband and a father and as a member of his community,” Haslam said.

Upon taking the stage, Bush hailed the gains GOP politicians have made in the Volunteer State over the past decade.

“It’s great to be in Tennessee, a place where Republicans win and win and win and win again,” said Bush.

In his his first big speech since becoming the TNGOP’s chairman, former Knoxville state Rep. Ryan Haynes lauded the event’s attendees for understanding that “we have to make this party even stronger than it is.” Haynes implored Republicans to “rise up and defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016,” and added that “no prize looms larger than that of the White House.”

“She has to be stopped,” he said. “We have to rise up and put an end to an old way of doing business — or as I like to call it, ‘Barack Obama 2.0.'”

“We have the Congress, we have the General Assembly, and we’ve got legislatures all across this country,” he continued. “But without the presidency, we don’t set the national agenda.”

Democrats Demand More ‘Insure TN’ Debate

Tennessee Democrats continue to prod Gov. Bill Haslam to convene another legislative special session so they can once again take a crack at passing the twice-defeated Medicaid expansion proposal known as “Insure Tennessee.”

State Democratic Party chairwoman Mary Mancini and House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, as well as several other Democratic lawmakers, held a press conference Wednesday in which they derided the Republican supermajority for obstructing the Haslam administration’s Affordable Care Act-related initiative.

fitzhugh square picThey also assured reporters that, at least in the General Assebmly’s lower chamber, there are enough votes to pass it.

“In the last session, we had all 26 of our caucus members ready to vote for this,” said Fitzhugh. “That meant only 24 out of 73 (Republicans) would be needed to put this over the top in the House.”

Legislation needs 50 votes to pass the House. In the Senate, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 28-5, a bill must garner 17 votes to win approval. Several GOP senators are in fact on record in support of Insure Tennessee, but a number of key supermajority caucus leaders and committee chairs oppose it.

None of the Senate Democrats took part in the morning press conference at Legislative Plaza, although Memphis Rep. G.A. Hardaway said that wasn’t in any way a sign of lackluster support for the governor’s plan among their thin ranks, but rather “merely logistics.”

Mancini, who formerly headed the liberal activist group Tennessee Citizen Action and was a runner-up Davidson County state Senate primary candidate last August prior to taking the TNDP reins in January, cast Republicans as more focused on “their personal political future” than providing “access to affordable health care” to lower-income Tennesseans. Up to 300,000 or more people are predicted to become eligible for taxpayer-subsidized medical insurance and government-financed doctor visits, hospital stays and drug prescriptions under the Haslam plan.

“Democrats are concerned with the future of all Tennesseans, which is why we are the ones that worked with the governor to create Insure Tennessee, to give access to affordable health care to 280,000 hardworking Tennesseans,” said Mancini.

She condemned Tennessee GOP lawmakers for objecting to the state releasing information about their own taxpayer-subsidized health coverage.

Mancini also criticized state legislative opponents of Insure Tennessee for aligning themselves with Republican politicians at the federal level against President Barack Obama’s signature health reform initiative. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law five years ago, passed without any support from Republicans in Washington, who were the minority party in both chambers of Congress at the time.mary mancini square pic

“Why are Republicans more concerned with what (U.S. House Speaker) John Boehner and (U.S. Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell want? We know that they have been playing politics with this issue, with the issue of health care, for years,” said Mancini. “They have put everything in its path to stop it, and now the Tennessee Republicans are falling in lockstep with them.”

In the event that another special session is launched, Fitzhugh offered that Democrats are quite willing to educate skeptical House GOP legislators on the merits of the Republican governor’s Medicaid expansion plan.

“We as a caucus are trying to answer every question that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle put forth in their opposition to Insure Tennessee,” said Fitzhugh. “We believe we have answered those, and stand ready to answer them at a special session, or even before a special session.”

Even while, in the Democrats’ view, Insure Tennessee is “not the best program in the world,” Fitzhugh said, the proposal does enjoy “a hundred percent support from our caucus.”

“It’s not a political issue. It is a moral and a mathematical issue for Tennessee,” the Ripley lawmaker said. He suggested a prime time to convene a special session will be in wake of the United States Supreme Court’s opinion on taxpayer subsidization of Obamacare’s federally run health insurance exchanges, which is expected to come down next month.

Gov. Haslam has expressed disappointment that Insure Tennessee didn’t get more traction in the Legislature, where it failed on lopsided Senate committee votes in a February special session and then again during the regular session in March. The House never actually took a formal vote on the measure, even though it was sponsored during the special session by Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga.

Haslam told reporters earlier this month that he gets “a little frustrated” with Republican lawmakers who keep expressing anxiety over the potential costs of his handcrafted Medicaid expansion plan.

Insure Tennessee is designed to secure billions of dollars in Obamacare funding and leave responsibility for funding the state’s share of the program to Tennessee hospitals, which stand to directly benefit from the transfusion of federal cash. Gov. Haslam maintains it “won’t cost Tennessee a dime,” although a “fiscal note” was attached to the legislation.

But the governor’s also aware hostility to the Affordable Care Act is deeply held among GOP lawmakers, and not just in Tennessee.

“We knew from the very beginning that was going to be hard,” the governor told said during a May 15 press conference. “And if you look anywhere there is a Republican legislature around the country, it hadn’t passed. So it is not like we are in a unique situation in the state of Tennessee.”

“Obviously, we need to do something to help change the impression of the Legislature,” Haslam continued. “We’re going to continue to have those discussions and look to see are there things that we can do in the program, that Washington will let us do, that we can change.”

Haslam said he hopes legislators’ constituents will make it known they support Medicaid expansion, and in turn lawmakers will warm to it. That was a sentiment reiterated Wednesday by the ranking House Democrat, who also touted a recent poll from Vanderbilt suggesting Tennesseans by a 2-1 margin want expanded health care options for the poor. If members of the General Assembly who’ve opposed Haslam’s plan “start hearing from their constituents, I think that’s what will change their minds,” said Fitzhugh.

Lt. Gov. Ramsey, R-Blountville, who serves as speaker of the Tennessee Senate, has said he doesn’t anticipate the GOP-dominated Legislature approving any kind of Medicaid expansion until the country has a new president — whom he hopes is a Republican — and likely then only if the state is granted federal permission to overhaul TennCare top to bottom.

Haslam said that while he understands and appreciates Ramsey’s perspective, there’s really no guarantee that a future president, even a fellow Republican, will grant Tennessee any Medicaid reform deal more attractive than what the governor says he’s already negotiated with the Obama administration.

“The thing to think about there is, and Lt. Gov. Ramsey and I have had these conversations, is No. 1, we have a new president, it still depends on what happens in Congress if the law is going to get changed,” said Haslam. “We have had Republican presidents before who could have given us block grants and haven’t. So it is not like that is a brand new idea. We have tried that for years in the state of Tennessee.”

Republicans want a lump-sum chunk of federal no-strings-attached funding to underwrite TennCare, so the state can run the health-care-for-the-poor program as it sees fit.

The governor suggested such an overhaul would in fact likely approximate the Medicaid “waiver” his administration developed over the last two years to access Obamacare funding. It includes patient co-pays and coverage premiums and “market-based” incentives to encourage healthier lifestyles and shrewder use of the health system by those signed up for government-funded medical coverage.

“If we got a block grant, it would be really similar to Insure Tennessee — not exactly, we would do more, I want to be really clear, we would do more if we got a block grant,” said Haslam. “But if we got a block grant, it would look relatively similar to what we are talking about.”