February 5 TN News Digest

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

Editorial: Committee disregards the truth on Insure Tenn. (Jackson Sun)
The state Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee said Wednesday that it has little regard for the working poor, job security, economic development, the health care industry and access to health care in rural areas. It said it is small minded and puts petty party politics above what is best for our state. It said it will bow to outside lobbyists who have no interest in the welfare of Tennesseans. The Health and Welfare Committee said all this and more when it voted 7-4 to kill Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan. Haslam’s plan was an innovative approach to health care reform that was expected to provide health insurance to about 280,000 of Tennessee’s poor and working poor.

Health Care Problems Not Going Away, says Haslam (TN Report)
Meeting with reporters shortly after the most significant legislative defeat of his tenure, a disappointed Bill Haslam said the problems surrounding health care he sought to address with “Insure Tennessee” aren’t going away. Hundreds of thousands of people in the state don’t have access to necessary care, he said. Furthermore, health care costs in Tennessee and across the country are “out of control,” the governor added. “We haven’t done anything to address those two issues,” he said. And while Haslam said he and his staff are still trying to process what went wrong with “Insure Tennessee,” he pledged that “you are going to see us continue to focus on trying to find a way” to tackle those problems.

Haslam responds to Insure Tennessee’s swift death (Nashville Business Journal)
About an hour after the defeat of his Insure Tennessee proposal in a Senate committee Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Bill Haslam said he’s not sure what the next steps are to address expanding health coverage to more Tennesseans or keeping health care costs in check. “The problem still exists,” Haslam said Wednesday evening. “We have a big problem and done nothing further to address it.” Haslam told reporters he’s open to the idea of addressing alternatives during the General Assembly’s regular session, but said: “Is there something that’s going to change in the next three months? I don’t know.”

Insure Tennessee defeat lamented as ‘good policy lost’ (Tennessean/Fletcher)
Insure Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam’s health care expansion plan, died in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. It was a committee that bill sponsor Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, said in his final remarks — in an impassioned appeal to its members to vote in the the best interests of the state — was charged with voting for “good public health policy.” “It’s not a perfect proposal — almost none of our legislation is. … It is a step in the right direction,” Overbey said. “I ask this committee to not be the one that stops the process” for the “good, working hard people.”

Haslam not sure on next steps after plan crushed in committee (TFP/Sher)
After watching fellow Republicans kill his proposal to extend health insurance coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans in a special session, a frustrated Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday the need is still there but he sees no immediate way forward. Haslam said while he is “open to the idea” of presenting his Insure Tennessee in the regular legislative session that resumes Monday, he emphasized, “We’re not going to do that unless we have some encouragement of a path. “I don’t know what the next step looks like. It’s not in my nature to give up,” Haslam said.

Haslam unsure of next steps after defeat of Insure Tennessee (Associated Press)
Gov. Bill Haslam is unsure of his next steps after fellow Republicans swiftly defeated his Insure Tennessee proposal in the Legislature this week. Speaking to reporters after the measure was defeated in the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday, the governor said: “I don’t know what the next step looks like.” Haslam was seeking authorization from lawmakers to proceed with an agreement with the federal government to extend coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans.

With Haslam Medicaid plan dead, special session ends (News-Sentinel/Locker)
Gov. Bill Haslam said he sees little need to return to federal officials to ask for more concessions on his health care plan, nor much reason to try again with the state Legislature anytime soon after it killed the plan Wednesday. “I think it feels a little pointless right now to come back with the same plan. And so there has to be something that would show change (among lawmakers),” the governor told reporters after the defeat. His health plan for the working poor, Insure Tennessee — negotiated over the last 21 months with President Obama’s administration as an alternative to Medicaid expansion — failed in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, where four members voted in favor and seven against.

Haslam’s Medicaid expansion plan dies in Senate (Nashville Post)
The Senate today took the governor’s plan to expand health care coverage to low-income Tennesseans off life support as the Health and Welfare Committee voted 7-to-4 against it. Sen. Doug Overbey pleaded with committee members to let the bill get to the full Senate or at least to the other committees slated to consider Insure Tennessee, but in the end he could only muster three of the 10 Republicans on the panel to vote yes. Sen. Jeff Yarbro, the lone Democrat, voted for the plan.

Haslam health plan Insure Tennessee is dead (Tennessean/Boucher)
Tennessee will not expand health benefits to hundreds of thousands of low-income residents, with state senators rebuking Gov. Bill Haslam’s controversial health care proposal. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted against passing Haslam’s Insure Tennessee. Only four of the 11 committee members voted in favor of the plan. The vote comes minutes after House Speaker Beth Harwell said she doesn’t think there are enough votes in the House to pass the plan. “I don’t think I have the support,” Harwell told reporters as she walked away from the House chamber Wednesday.

Haslam’s Insure Tennessee Health Plan Fails in Legislature (Memphis Daily News)
Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans has failed during a special legislative session. The Senate Health Committee defeated the Republican governor’s Insure Tennessee plan Wednesday on a 7-4 vote. But there were indications by Wednesday evening that the door could be open for some kind of amended alternative to Insure Tennessee. The best indication of that may come Thursday when Gov. Bill Haslam addresses the annual luncheon of the Winter Convention of the Tennessee Press Association.

Vote by Senate lawmakers effectively kills Insure Tennessee (N. Business Journal)
Gov. Bill Haslam spent nearly two years negotiating with federal officials to find an alternative plan for expanding Medicaid in the state. In the end, however, he didn’t spend enough time convincing state lawmakers that his plan was the right one. Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan was effectively killed Wednesday, after a Senate committee voted against the proposal. Wednesday’s vote of a Senate health committee was the first time lawmakers were asked to vote up or down on Haslam’s proposal to expand Medicaid in the state.

First Vote Kills Insure Tennessee Medicaid Expansion (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
It appears the first vote on Gov. Bill Haslam’s Medicaid expansion proposal may also be the last. On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Health Committee went solidly against the plan, dubbed Insure Tennessee. Sen. Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) made a final, personal plea to members, telling them that they should at least vote to let the full Senate get a chance to weigh in. “I did put my heart into it because I felt that strongly that it’s the right thing to do,” Overbey said following the 7-4 vote. “I wish I had been able to convince a majority of the committee.”

Haslam’s Insure Tennessee Health Plan Fails In Legislature (WTVF-TV Nashville)
Governor Bill Haslam’s proposal to extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans has failed during a special legislative session. The Senate Health Committee defeated the Republican governor’s Insure Tennessee plan Wednesday on a 7-4 vote. Haslam spent 21 months negotiating a special deal for Tennessee that included market-based elements like vouchers to buy private insurance, co-pays and assurances that the state could pull out of the deal if it ended up being more expensive than expected. “The main point I would make today is this, we made a decision today, but we didn’t do anything about it to answer the problem,” Haslam said.

Gov. Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan fails (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan was defeated in a crucial vote Wednesday. A Senate health committee voted 7-4 against the measure in a special session. The governor’s plan would have provided health insurance to more than 280,000 uninsured Tennesseans. Wednesday’s vote effectively killed the proposal. Several senators on the committee said they lacked information about Insure Tennessee. “There are the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns, and there are a lot of unknown unknowns,” said Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, who quoted an expert who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

Few lawmakers supported Haslam’s Insure Tennessee (Tennessean/Boucher)
In 21 months, Gov. Bill Haslam and his administration spent countless hours crafting a health care plan they thought could thread the political needle: satisfy Democrats in Washington, D.C., Republicans in Tennessee and help the working poor. It took considerably less time for the plan to unravel in the General Assembly. After a little more than two days, a few state Senators officially killed Haslam’s plan to provide 280,000 low-income Tennesseans with federally funded health care.

Recriminations begin immediately following death of Insure Tennessee (TFP/Sher)
Republicans, red-shirted activists and free-market advocates cheered while Democrats, hospital groups and some nonprofits bemoaned the death of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal at the hands of a state Senate’s Health committee, which voted 7-4 against the proposal before it could be brought to the floor for a vote. Area Sens. Todd Gardenhire, of Chattanooga, and Mike Bell, of Riceville, were among those who voted ‘no’ on Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal. So was Sen. Janice Bowling, of Tullahoma, who was thought to be the swing vote.

Insure Tennessee fails because of Obama, Tracy says (Daily News Journal)
State Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, issued the following statement about Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed Insure Tennessee failing to gain support from the Tennessee General Assembly, including the Senate Health and Wellness Committee. “As the committee studied the plan, it continued to generate more questions, particularly as it concerns the absence of a final legal agreement that would be entered into with the Obama administration,” Tracy said. “A key concern is whether or not Tennessee would indeed be able to put controls on the program when the federal government has the final say since this was a verbal, rather than legal agreement.”

West Tenn. legislators react to defeat of Insure Tennessee (Jackson Sun)
Newly elected Sen. Ed Jackson, a Republican from Jackson, was one of four committee members to vote for future debate on the Insure Tennessee plan Wednesday, but he was soundly outnumbered. Gov. Bill Haslam’s healthcare plan to give benefits to over 280,000 Tennesseans is no more. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee, of which Jackson is a member, voted against passing Insure Tennessee through the committee 7-4. “I’m disappointed that the process didn’t go all the way through like it was designed to do,” Jackson said.

THA president on the Republican arguments that killed Insure Tennessee (NBJ)
Wednesday’s Senate Health and Welfare Committee vote to scuttle Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan without full legislative debate wasn’t exactly a surprise; Tuesday afternoon, House Speaker Beth Harwell was already suggesting an alternative plan might need to be drawn up. But Craig Becker, president of the Tennessee Hospital Association, was nonetheless disheartened by the plan’s quick death. Tennessee’s hospital companies, which THA represents, have been some of the biggest supporters of Medicaid expansion in the state, even offering to pick up the excess cost of the plan once federal spending dials down after two years from 100 percent to 90 percent.

Luttrell Warns of Tax Hike Without Insure Tennessee (Memphis Daily News)
Two hours before the state Senate committee vote in Nashville that signaled the death of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Medicaid expansion proposal, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said failure to pass the expansion could mean a county property tax hike to fund Shelby County’s public safety net hospital. During his annual State of the County speech to the Memphis Kiwanis Club Wednesday, Luttrell also warned that without the expansion of the program, he will pursue county funding to make up the cost of treating uninsured Tennesseans at Regional One Health.

STEM School Chatt model for rest of the state, ed commissioner says (TFP/Healey)
Newly sworn-in Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen was the featured speaker on a panel discussing 21st century education initiatives at STEM School Chattanooga on Wednesday. A crowd of roughly 50 local educators, administrators and government officials sat among 3-D printers and computers in the school’s “Fab Lab” listening to McQueen and her fellow panelists. Discussion centered around what Chattanooga needs to do to become an educational leader and innovator. McQueen praised STEM School’s innovative curriculum as a step in the right direction. “What you’re doing here is what we should be doing across the entire state,” McQueen said.

Memphis forensic center gathering data on unexplained deaths (Associated Press)
The West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center in Memphis is one of four Tennessee locations participating in a national project to learn more about sudden and unexplained deaths of people under the age of 20. The center will be gathering data for the Sudden Death in the Young Case Registry. DNA samples and information from death certificates, medical records, death scenes and pathology reports will be entered into a database to provide a registry of information that can be analyzed. Tennessee’s Department of Health will oversee data collection at four locations.

Two Sumner County residents accused of TennCare fraud (Tennessean/Cross)
A Gallatin woman, accused of doctor shopping for the third time, and a Hendersonville man have been arrested after police say they committed TennCare fraud involving prescription drugs. The Office of Inspector General, with the help of the Hendersonville Police Department, announced Monday the arrest of Christopher J. Taylor, 42, of Hendersonville and Katrina Ann Bond, 27, of Gallatin, according to a news release. Taylor is accused of TennCare fraud and obtaining hydrocodone painkillers with TennCare benefits and later selling a portion of them. Bond is charged with three counts of fraudulently obtaining hydrocodone from doctor shopping using TennCare benefits as payment in Davidson County.

Blackburn offers bill to crack down on ticket bots (Tennessean/Rau)
U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and other members of the Tennessee Congressional delegation introduced legislation on Wednesday that would make it illegal to use computer software called bots to purchase tickets to live events. Blackburn, R-Brentwood, was joined by Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville; Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis; and U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg, in introducing the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act. Bots are used by some ticket scalpers to buy large swaths of tickets to popular concerts or sporting events. Under the bill, it would label the use of bots to circumvent ticketing security measures an “unfair and deceptive practice” under the Federal Trade Commission Act.

Nearly 200K Tennesseans select ACA health plans (Tennessean/Fletcher)
Nearly 200,000 Tennesseans have signed up for health insurance on the federal health exchange — and there are 11 shopping days before open enrollment ends. People who are interested in buying a plan on the open exchange are encouraged to enroll ahead of the Feb. 15 Affordable Care Act deadline because of an expected spike in activity. “We’re beginning to see a ramp. We’re starting to see more and more activity on the call center and more and more traffic on the website,” said Andy Slavitt, principal deputy administrator of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Consumers need to treat Feb. 15 as their last chance to get coverage for the year.”

3 graduate from Nashville’s expanding veterans court (Tennessean/Barchenger)
Chris Tripp spent six years obeying the strict discipline of the U.S. Air Force, including during tours in Iraq and Kuwait. When he was discharged in 2012, he found it challenging to readjust to life in Nashville, his hometown. “Without everything there I went into a tailspin,” he said. “I found myself back with the same people I was with before the military, doing the same stupid stuff going to the same dumb clubs. Just, I guess, found myself around drugs and substances I had no business taking.” Police caught Tripp once, and he would have had a felony drug charge on his record if it were not for Davidson County veterans court.

Staff cuts, rate hike helps TVA earn $81 million (Times Free-Press/Flessner)
Despite a 1.6 percent drop in power sales last fall, the Tennessee Valley Authority boosted its net income in the final three months of calendar 2014 to $81 million after TVA lost $67 million in the same period a year earlier. The federal utility raised its base rates last fall and over the past three years the agency has trimmed $500 million in annual operating expenses through staff and program cuts. Those measures combined to improve TVA’s financial standing even as the agency spends a record $3.5 billion this year on new generation and pollution controls.

TVA profits up $148M despite power sales dip (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Marcum)
Even with electricity sales down 1.6 percent, TVA’s net income was up about $184 million for the first quarter of fiscal 2015 compared to the same time in 2014, the federal utility reported Wednesday. In the same quarter last year, TVA lost $67 million. Several things helped this time, TVA Chief Financial Officer John Thomas said during a conference call with investors and reporters Wednesday. Operating expenses were down 5.4 percent, and fuel and purchase power expenses were 1.4 percent lower due to greater availability of coal and nuclear power, he said.

Tennessee ranks sixth worst for bullying (Tennessean/Barnes)
When it comes to bullying, Tennessee ranks the sixth-worst state, according to a new WalletHub study. WalletHub ranked 42 states and Washington, D.C., in nine key metrics, ranging from bullying incident rates online and on school property to the cost of truancy, which played into two other determining key factors: bullying prevalence and bullying environment and impact. The Volunteer State didn’t fare too well, ranking second worst in bullying environment and impact and 14th worst in bullying prevalence.

School board OKs pursuing funding complaint against state (News-Sentinel/McCoy)
Mike McMillan agreed with his fellow school board members that it’s necessary to address funding inadequacies for the state’s largest school districts, which includes Knox County. But during the board’s meeting Wednesday, he expressed concerns about the end results of a current proposal by the Coalition of Large School Systems, also known as CLASS, that may lead to a lawsuit against the state. “To get the kind of money that we’re talking about to make significant changes, it’s not like (the state) can just look around a few places and come up with a few million dollars that will do something of major significance,” he said.

OPINION

Guest columnist: Free trade benefits businesses here in Tennessee (Tennessean)
When entrepreneurs are not able to readily access markets for their goods and services, businesses and workers suffer. In supporting President Obama’s Fast Track authority to speed the process of free trade agreements, Rep. Jim Cooper is helping to keep intact a tool that the executive branch has used since 1974, when it was created to fight the protectionist laws in place at the time that were crippling American industry and leading to unemployment rates in the 8 percent range. I understand that unions want to help workers fight to keep their jobs and are generally opposed to free trade, as they are trying to help shield their members from the disruption and pain of job loss.