To one degree or another I have been involved in the struggle for health care justice in Tennessee for many years. My wife and I started when Governor Bredesen starting cutting thousands and thousands of people off Tenncare. Recently our life has been totally disrupted by the failure of Tennessee to expand Medicaid. I wrote Governor Haslam over 140 letters asking him to reconsider. When Insure Tennessee came along we felt hope for the first time in a long time. We survived the massacre of Insure last year. This year…. well this year has been the slow death of waiting for something to catch fire that just never found flame. I have been without insurance for 7 years now. I am one of the 280,000 Tennesseans in the gap.
What follows is more questions than answers. I have come to believe something I don’t want to believe and hope someone reading this post can explain to me how I am wrong. My goal is not to proclaim the truth as much as it is to grieve it.
My question is really simple. Is the game rigged??? Is there a real path to Insure Tennessee??
Follow me for a minute.
When Insure Tennessee was first proposed there was an extensive campaign to explain why it was a good idea and how it would benefit Tennessee and why saying no just didn’t make sense. It succeeded. Virtually every newspaper came out in favor of it. Social groups, business groups, health and medical groups all came out in favor. A governor with a 70% approval rating from a party that had a super majority in the legislature called it perhaps the best and most important thing he had done. I honestly thought it would literally pass by acclamation.
It got slaughtered. No amount of facts were enough facts. No amount of testimony was enough. I remember Tracy Foster with no insurance and fighting a battle with cancer asking me at the end, “Larry does this mean I am going to die?”
Some people said the legislators had not been educated enough. Others said they needed to hear more from people in the gap. I think there was a bigger truth. No one wanted to take a chance on a primary challenge from someone accusing them off being soft on Obamacare. Aside from some efforts of a few brave legislators Insure died a quick death.
Insure this year died a victim of politics again this year. Senator Ramsey said it was an election year and a Republican president would give Tennessee a better deal. Governor Haslam didn’t just punt. He left the field before the first whistle. And Speaker Harwell made saying nothing into a new art form.
But again everyone was protected. No one would find their conscience made them a victim of a primary challenge because no one was expected to have a conscience.
The smart money says wait until next year. The election will be over with and people free from fear and coercion will be more reasonable. A major advocacy and education campaign is already in the planning stages. What didn’t work last year will work next year. At least the smart money says so.
All this is a lengthy introduction to my original question. Is there a path to Insure Tennessee? Is the game rigged? Could next year be it?
The short answer is I don’t know. I really don’t know. I have my own feelings and expectations but as I said earlier I hope I am wrong on every count. I hope my perceptions are the product of disappointment and grief and prospects are much better than I think.
I fear the game is rigged. The fix, in effect, is in and the path to Insure Tennessee neither clear nor likely. Let me explain.
1. It appears to me that Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee. We are getting ready to go into a campaign of rhetoric through the roof. Part of that will be about the evils of Obamacare.
2. Tennessee legislative candidates will accelerate and intensify their rhetoric about health care. Many will try to out-Trump Trump into the legislature. The antagonism towards something like Insure Tennessee will only grow as people become more and more convinced it is in their political self interest to do so.
3. Senator Ramsey and Speaker Harwell will continue to be in charge of the legislature. After a campaign of supporting Trump I don’t understand how they will suddenly become pro Insure Tennessee. Without their support there is little evidence anything will fly.
4. Governor Haslam is still searching for his intestinal fortitude. I still haven’t seen any evidence he is willing to provide leadership in anything hard.
5. If a Republican wins Insure Tennessee is dead. If a Democrat wins that victory will be pitched as a defeat for Tennessee and the pressure on legislators to prove they are not soft, particularly on Hillary Clinton, will be immense.
6. I think the assumption that the new year will bring a new Republican response is far more hopeful than me. I think it does not give enough credit to the political context we currently find ourselves in.
I hope everything above is wrong but what if it isn’t? What does it mean?
Again I don’t know. Some of the following things seem to me to be options to me.
1. Change nothing. Assume all the political considerations are way overdrawn and that absent the pressures of an immediate election the Republican legislature will rise above politics and do the right thing. Assume progress has been made and next year offers a real chance of success.
2. Talk about a change in tactics. Is there a reason to talk about adding things to actions already being taken that might be more direct action oriented like for example sit ins etc. Do we need to be more intense or would a rise in intensity backfire?
3. In two weeks there will be a resolution heard that allow Governor Haslam not to have to seek legislative approval for action. I don’t know anyone expects that resolution to survive the first subcommittee. If it fails how do we want to respond? The last message of this year is the first message of next year.
I don’t know. A lot of people have put their heart and soul in this and I am sure there are a lot of opinions.
I believe persistence can beat power but we need to take a hard look at the realities.
What do you think? Am I completely off base?