February 1 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

Editorial: Insure Tennessee responsible way to improve health (News-Sentinel)
The General Assembly will begin a special session on Monday called by Gov. Bill Haslam to consider Insure Tennessee, the governor’s plan to extend health care coverage to low-income residents now ineligible for TennCare. Insure Tennessee would extend health insurance coverage to an estimated 280,000 people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $27,310 for a family of three. The question of establishing an alternative means of expanding the state’s Medicaid program has sparked vigorous debate, but before descending this week into the political pit, lawmakers would be wise to pause for a moment to consider why this program would be desirable.

Editorial: Insure Tennessee and save our citizens (Jackson Sun)
As legislators prepare to debate the expansion of Medicaid in our state, and thereby decide whether to give more than 200,000 additional Tennesseans a chance for a healthy life, we hope they put aside partisan politics and ignore the outside influences that seek only to inflame the debate. Insure Tennessee is not Obamacare. In fact, Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal is decidedly different from traditional Medicaid. It offers access to private insurance plans and has a market-based approach that includes incentives for people to make responsible choices for healthier living. Our tax dollars have already been collected to cover this expansion.

Health professionals back Insure Tennessee (Daily News Journal)
Many health-care professionals see Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed Insure Tennessee as a way to help patients obtain affordable treatment. Primary Care and Hope Clinic Chief Executive Officer Lisa Terry supports the governor’s proposal. Her non-profit clinic provided care for 26,500 patient visits in 2014, and 47 percent of those seeking treatment had no health insurance, Terry told a group of Tennessee General Assembly lawmakers who came to meet at her clinic with her, Haslam and others to learn more about Insure Tennessee.

Q&A: Hospital CEO endorses Insure Tennessee (Daily News Journal)
The Tennessee General Assembly this week will take up the question of whether to expand Medicaid in the state. While Rutherford County’s legislative delegation has mostly come out against the Tennessee plan, called Insure Tennessee, the state’s health care industry has offered its support. The plan, offered by Gov. Bill Haslam, would expand Tennessee’s Medicaid program to the working poor who don’t qualify for subsidies in the health care exchange. It would extend coverage to an estimated 200,000 uninsured Tennesseans.

County resident hopes Legislature will pass Insure Tennessee (Daily News Journal)
Lisa Yattow hopes Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed Insure Tennessee will deliver the affordable health care she needs. The 50-year-old Yattow has lived with recurring kidney-stone problems for about 30 years. She also copes with rheumatoid arthritis in her spine and sometimes to a shoulder, knee, wrist and ankle. Her chronic pains were so bad that she was unable to stay seated for long periods and had to leave her accounting and bookkeeping job in Nashville and the insurance that went with the position. A Rutherford County resident of the Sulphur Springs Road area off state Route 840, Yattow has been without health insurance the past year and a half and lacks the money to pay for the kidney-stone operations as well as have a lump in her breast examined again.

Insure Tennessee would close gaps for veterans (Tennessean/Wilemon)
Chip Caston has only one lung and is prone to pneumonia, but he spent 2014 worrying about having a heart attack, getting cancer or suffering some other health emergency. As a veteran of the U.S. Army who did not serve until retirement, he had medical coverage only for his service-related disabilities — an asthma condition aggravated by chemical exposure and the lingering complications from an infection in his right ankle. In Tennessee, there are an estimated 29,000 uninsured veterans between the ages of 18 and 64.

Insure Tennessee: A recap of Haslam’s health care plan (Tenn/Boucher, Fletcher)
Forgotten the details of Gov. Bill Haslam’s health care plan? Here’s a recap of Haslam’s idea for providing more than 280,000 low-income Tennesseans with federally subsidized health care. Who would be covered? There are currently about 470,000 Tennesseans who do not have coverage and could be eligible under the new plan. To qualify, you need a household income under 138 percent of the federal poverty line: that’s $16,105 for a single individual, or $32,913 for a family of four. Haslam’s administration estimates 280,000 people could sign up in the first year, with enrollment reaching more than 300,000 by the end of the two-year trial period.

Poll: Support strong among those familiar with Medicaid plan (Associated Press)
A poll shows that two-thirds of Tennesseans haven’t heard much about Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to extend health coverage to more than 280,000 low-income residents. But the MTSU Poll indicates support significantly outweighs opposition among people familiar with the plan. The poll released Saturday surveyed 600 adult residents statewide a week before a special legislative session convenes Monday to consider the governor’s Insure Tennessee proposal. The poll found 33 percent of Tennesseans have read or heard a lot or some about the proposal.

Poll: Half of Tennesseans support Haslam’s ‘Insure Tennessee’ plan (TFP)
Most Tennesseans haven’t heard about Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s ‘Insure Tennessee’ plan, but among the one third who have, 49 percent said they support the proposal, according to a just-released poll. The Middle Tennessee State University statewide survey of 600 adults shows Haslam “has gotten a noticeable head start in promoting the measure among Tennesseans,” said Ken Blake, the MTSU’s poll director. State lawmakers will convene in a week-long special session Monday to consider giving Haslam the go ahead to pursue what he calls a “market-driven” take on federal Medicaid expansion.

MTSU poll: Public unaware about Insure Tennessee (Tennessean/Rau)
While the vast majority of Tennesseans don’t know much about Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan, support for the measure outpaces opposition, according to poll results released Saturday by Middle Tennessee State University. The legislature will begin a special session on Monday to consider Haslam’s plan to extend health care coverage to about 200,000 people who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to buy coverage on their own. The expansion is possible through federal funds designated by the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. According to the MTSU poll, two-thirds of Tennesseans have heard a little or nothing about Insure Tennessee.

MTSU Poll: Most Tennesseans haven’t heard about Insure Tennessee plan (DNJ)
Two-thirds of Tennesseans haven’t heard much about Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Insure Tennessee” health care proposal, but among the third who have, support substantially outweighs opposition, according to the latest MTSU Poll. The poll randomly surveyed 600 adult residents statewide a week before a special legislative session kicks off Monday to consider the measure, according to a release from the university. The survey’s margin of error is 4 percentage points. “Gov. Haslam has gotten a notable head start in promoting the measure among Tennesseans,” said Ken Blake, director of the poll at MTSU, in the release.

Governor stops in Sparta to talk Insure Tennessee (Herald-Citizen)
Governor Bill Haslam has been making the rounds across the state to inform physicians, hospital administration and local legislators about his Insure Tennessee plan, a plan he said provides a meaningful solution for the 400,000 low-income uninsured residents in the state and helps secure the future of hospitals across the state. One of those stops Haslam made was in Sparta, where local legislators, elected officials, along with Highlands Medical Center administration and physicians, recently gathered to learn more about his plan.

Getting Insure TN plan through legislature poses ‘real test’ for Haslam (TFP/Sher)
Gov. Bill Haslam faces what may be the biggest test of his political career this week as he attempts to persuade fellow Republicans in the GOP-dominated General Assembly to approve his proposed Insure Tennessee plan. Right now, the vote looks to be a squeaker in the special session that starts Monday. And it’s unclear which way lawmakers will squeak as they consider what Haslam calls his “market-driven” plan to use federal Medicaid dollars to offer health insurance coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans under President Barack Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act. “I think it’s very close right now,” House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said Friday in an interview.

Haslam’s Insure Tenn. plan comes down to 451-word resolution (AP/Schelzig)
After months of negotiations and political wrangling, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans comes down to a 451-word resolution. The Republican-controlled Legislature convenes in a special session on Monday to decide whether to OK the governor’s Insure Tennessee plan – or to or leave $2.8 billion in federal money on the table. “Insure Tennessee is a unique, alternative approach that brings Tennessee taxpayer dollars back to this state to benefit Tennessee citizens,” according to the resolution filed Saturday.

Legislators oppose, question health proposal (Daily News Journal)
Gov. Bill Haslam may be unable to count on votes from fellow Republicans in Rutherford County’s six-member delegation in the Legislature when it comes to his Insure Tennessee proposal. At least three of the delegation members said they oppose Insure Tennessee, one questions why the state should pursue such an initiative when the Supreme Court will once again examine a legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act, and two of the lawmakers said they’re still studying the governor’s proposal. White position State Rep. Dawn White of Murfreesboro said she opposes a plan that means accepting Affordable Care Act funding to expand Medicaid.

Unsure footing for Insure Tennessee (Jackson Sun)
State Rep. Andy Holt says Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to expand Medicaid has no chance of approval as the legislature begins a special session to consider the bill. “Senate members just laugh at such little support (for it) in the Senate,” Holt said. “Even those in the House who are expected to vote on it, they’re not planning on it.” Holt, a Republican from Dresden, said he will not vote for the plan and that House members would “love” for the proposal to die in a subcommittee before coming to a vote by the entire House. Holt’s stance exemplifies the challenge Haslam faces in getting members of his own party to vote for his plan. Republicans control the state House and Senate.

Higher ed panel taps new chair after Randy Boyd’s exit (Tennessean/Tamburin)
The Tennessee Higher Education Commission unanimously elected its new chairman during a quarterly meeting last week. Commission member Evan Cope will replace outgoing chair Randy Boyd, who Gov. Bill Haslam recently tapped to be commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, according to a statement from the commission. As chair, Cope will lead the 15-member commission. THEC serves as the coordinating body for the state’s two systems of public higher education, the University of Tennessee system and the Tennessee Board of Regents. Together, both systems include 51 public colleges and universities.

Rural energy program poised for a breakout year (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Brass)
On the northern corner of Holden Nursery’s property sit enough solar panels to snuff out the company’s electric bill, and then some. “(The system has) really actually generated more than we were told,” said Kim Holden, who owns the Mascot nursery with his wife, also Kim. “In good summer months, we probably produce eight to 10 times more (power) than we use ourselves.” The Holdens wouldn’t have invested in the system, however, without a little help. Part of that came in the form of the special rate TVA pays the nursery for green power generated by the system.

Corker co-sponsors bill to prevent IRS political targeting (Times Free-Press)
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., is a co-sponsor of the Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2015. The would prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from further regulating the activities of social welfare organizations until 2017. It is a reaction to a 2012 issue where some groups seeking tax exemptions were inappropriately flagged for additional review due to their political beliefs. “It is unacceptable that all nonprofit organizations seeking tax-exempt status including groups in Tennessee have not been treated fairly by the IRS in the past,” said Corker.

Collierville officials say property tax increase would pay for school (CA/Pignolet)
After Collierville Schools officials announced last week their plan for a new high school comes with a price tag of more than $90 million, Town Administrator James Lewellen knew the next question would be directed at him. Who’s going to pay for it? In short, property tax payers. Lewellen said the town would take out bonds that would be paid off, likely over 30 years, with a property tax increase. “We probably will be looking at a property tax increase to cover the full debt service of the new school,” he said. Residents can petition to have a referendum on whether the town should take on the debt, just as happened recently in Lakeland, where a new school is being planned.

OPINION

Guest columnists: Rural hospitals at risk of closing if Insure TN fails (Tennessean)
We are calling for the legislature to support Insure Tennessee because lives are at stake. Insure Tennessee will provide better access to care for our patients. One key element of both the TriStar and Saint Thomas Health systems is that patients who access any of our hospitals can tap into the resources of an entire network. Rural hospitals, for example, are the key link for access to health care for many Tennesseans. For much of the population, this is the only point of access to care. Both TriStar and Saint Thomas Health have facilities in rural communities and major hospitals in downtown Nashville. Saint Thomas Health includes nine hospitals across the state, including facilities in Smithville and Centerville.

Tom Humphrey: Haslam faces rough seas for health reform (News-Sentinel)
As his predecessor might say, Gov. Bill Haslam is embarking on a hazardous voyage into legislative waters this week after four years of smooth sailing. Shipwreck is a real possibility. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen was famous for nautical analogies in his speeches on steering the Tennessee “ship of state” with a legislator crew. It’s somewhat curious that the most perilous voyage in his eight-year reign was trying to slash enrollment in TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program, over objections from fellow Democrats, then in the majority at the Legislature, and with the support of most Republicans. Now we have Haslam trying to expand TennCare over the objections of many members of his own party — Republicans, who now enjoy supermajority status — while backed by most of the Democrats.