The fight for Insure Tennessee…. One perspective

Many thanks to Justin Jones.  Much of today has been conversation with him and much of what follows below has to do with questions he asked or issues he raised.  He made it a good day.



  1. Upwards of 280,000 people in Tennessee lack any basic health insurance.  Basically they are just too poor to qualify for anything.
  2. The moral, financial, political, social and personal impacts of this in Tennessee are immense.
  3. People get sick who with access to medical care would not get sick.  People who should not have to suffer do.  Individuals, families, and communities are all impacted.  Live are ruined simply because people are poor or they don’t fit into one of the categories that give people access to health care.  And people die.  People die tragically, unnecessarily and unjustly.  Some studies have indicated that 2-4 people a day in Tennessee die from lack of insurance, from lack of access to even the most basic care.
  4. Insure Tennessee was Governor Haslam’s plan to deal with the issue.  It promised care to people, financial help to struggling hospitals, jobs for Tennesseans, Tennessee tax dollars back in Tennessee at no cost to Tennesssee.  All costs would be born by the federal government and the Tennessee Hospital Association.
  5. Virtually everybody in the state was in favor of the plan.  The sickness and death of a portion of its population should never be the policy of a decent state.  People know it.  I know it.  You know it.  Virtually every newspaper in the state came out in favor of it.  Every civic organization, every business organization, every health organization….every, every everything came out in favor of it.  Polls said the Tennessee people favored it by a large margin.
  6. Governor Haslam presented in a special session. It didn’t just lose.  It was slaughtered.
  7. A second try later in the session gave the same result.
  8. And so the wait began for the second season of Insure Tennessee
The second season of Insure Tennessee is here.
Senator Ramsey has notified everyone that Insure Tennessee is dead.  In his eyes dead and buried.  He thinks that if we get a Republican president they might give Tennessee a block grant to develop their own Medicaid program independent of any federal rules or expectations.  And he is willing to wait.  No matter how unlikely it is he is willing to wait.  And most importantly regardless of the cost to those who suffer and badly need access to medical care he is willing to wait.
The legislature I think really does want it to go away. It is election year.  Nobody wants to face a primary challenger accusing them of being soft on “Obamacare.”
Governor Haslam has given them all a free pass.  He thinks it is a ‘good idea” still he says, but it would be a hard fight with no assurance of victory and he has decided not to fight, not to try.  Political convenience wins out.
Nobody has to worry about where they stand because no one is going to ask them to stand.
And now the Tennessee Hospital Association has given Governor Haslam a free pass.  They are still for it and plan a big push to get it adopted.  They are they say going to spend $400,000……Next year.  5 days before his state of the state address they tell him not to worry.  They aren’t going to raise a fuss.  Everyone is safe…..
Except everyone is not safe.  Tomorrow 2 more Tennesseans will die from lack of insurance.  Two more will follow the next day.  Who knows how many people will suffer who shouldn’t have to?  Who knows how many lives will be touched in one way or another?
The people who should really count are not safe.  Not one bit safe.
Smart money says be realistic.  Insure Tennessee will not happen this year.  The cards are stacked against it.  Don’t get your hopes up.  The election is just in the way this year.  Next year will be a better year.
So what do you say?
I am one of the 280,000 and much of my perspective is borne of that.  My hope for Bill Haslam (and for that matter every legislator) is not that they win the battle of Insure Tennessee.  My expectation is that they will fight the battle of Insure Tennessee.
I care about what Bill Haslam says to the legislature.  I care more about what he says to me.
I understand that politicians don’t want to risk their futures on an uncertain cause.  I risk my future every day.  They worry about their safety.  I wish they worried about mine.
They worry about the right times to deal with things.  Moral choices have no season I think.  Justice deferred is not justice.
I am 64 years old and have seen much change in my life time.  Much of it was change not supposed to happen according to the smart money.  The strong, in the end, lose to the persistent.  Battles are not wars.
The question before us is not simply whether or not Insure Tennessee will win this year.  It might not.  In the end we only control what we do and can only try with others.  The question before is given the situation is  how will the situation define us and how will it define Tennessee?  It is not simply what are we to do.  It is also who are we to be.  I have been without insurance for about 8 years now and until I lost it I never really  realized what it meant to try to live without it.  I hope I will survive another year if I have to.  But I hope never to survive a day where what I do is dictated by what suits the ambitions of those around me, where political interests substitute for moral reality, where the right thing is subject to the demands of convenience.
This  challenge is as much about the fight before us as it is the victory in any one of its battles.  I think in all we do we need to strive to insure justice.  It starts with I matter, you matter…..everyone matters and no label or term, no political agenda or ambition that implies otherwise should ever be tolerated, believed or left unchallenged.
When faced with the odds against you and faced with gross injustice before you the challenge is not whether or not you win.  The challenge is whether or not you choose to fight.
This is a challenge I think we should take.  I hope it is a challenge you will take.  Speak loudly and often.  Your voice matters.  The legislature in the end will do what it does.  Governors do what governors do.  Smart people may do what the smart money dictates.  But please let none of this happen in our absence, in our quiet and with our acquiescence.
 It is time.  It is the right time.  Insure Tennessee now.

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