Tag Archives: Medicaid Expansion

Gateway To Bigotry

head_in_hands

During this first week of the Sochi Olympics, much of the world has been discussing the oppressive anti-gay laws in Russia. Hear in Tennessee, we have an oppressive gay bill making the rounds by Memphis’ one and only Sen. Brian Kelsey. It has already been coined “Turn the Gays Away” bill.

Here’s what this bill does:

The bill notes that businesses can refuse services and goods only if it furthers a civil union, domestic partnership, or same-sex marriage. The person or business would just have to say it was against their religion. For example, if a same-sex couple wanted a cake for their wedding reception, a bakery could refuse to cater to them.

Jonathan Cole of the Tennessee Equality Project says the bill is making discrimination legal.

“It’s bad for business,” Cole said. “It’s bad for attracting talent that would be offered a job to come and work for a corporation here in Tennessee. When they see bills like this capturing the headlines, it really reflects poorly on the state.”

A couple of questions to delve further into Kelsey’s bill. The scope of the bill applies to anything that might apply to a big “gay” wedding or partnership, but the bottom line, to quote a comment made at Knox Views, it is another gateway bill into bigotry. We’ve seen this happen before with Sen. Stacy Campfield and his horrendous remarks about the LGBT community with his “Don’t Say Gay” bill. It’s about taking legislative action against civil rights. All men and women are created equal unless they want to get married to each other, then you can say I won’t help you because it’s against my religion?

It is a gateway problem because what happens after this bill? How much money will the state have to pay in legal fees when it gets sued and it will if this goes through.

Many of our legislators are good people, I’m not saying they aren’t. I will say though that they will be will be lumped in with the Campys and Kelseys of the world as long as bills like this keep getting burned to garner headlines and to purposefully discriminate against people. We are all Tennesseans and when the national headlines hit, and they have been plentiful lately, we all look idiotic.

While we are discussing demoralizing legislation, let’s look at some things not being discussed by our elected officials.

And speaking of the state of Tennessee’s finances we read this from the Nashville Post

Halfway through the state’s budget year Tennessee’s revenue collections are $222.7 million in the hole, the Department of Revenue reported Thursday.

Although the department says January has seen the largest growth in tax collections over the last 13 months, revenues fell short $51.6 million from the state’s expectations.

And the only jobs I’m hearing anyone in Nashville and Washington talk about right now is Volkswagon, where it is apparent that the same incentives that the GOP bent over backwards to give to the German auto manufacturer is now being treated with buyer’s remorse.I mean, is Sen. Bo Watson really threatening to pull incentives? Why yes, he did go there.

And finally, we are in our 44th day without Medicaid expansion so there is $110,000,000 down the toilet for the state of Tennessee.

What do Kelsey and Watson have to say about that? I guess they are too busy fighting gay people and unions to have even noticed.

Haslam’s Tuition Plan Shows Little Promise

Shiny Community College Push More Spin Than Substance

Trust MeBill Haslam is the most shameful kind of politician.

Don’t get me wrong. Haslam is surely a nice man. He’s probably a good father and husband. He presents well.

But his politics are shameful because, rather than fighting for the families he represents, he masterfully peddles false hope.

The most egregious example of Haslam’s hope peddling is, of course, Medicaid expansion.

Medicaid Expansion

Nearly a year ago, Haslam, in a big speech to the General Assembly, promised working families living without health coverage — more than 465,000 parents and children in Tennessee — that his office would submit a plan to get their families access to Medicaid coverage.

A year later, Haslam still peddles false hope talking about how hard he is trying. But he has refused to even produce a plan for public review. Leaders in the legislature filed an open records request to lay bare Haslam’s delay tactics.

Tennessee Promise

Much like his earlier initiatives, Haslam’s latest promise — a program to boost college graduation rates to 55% — is more publicity machine than actual plan.

Let me break it down for you. Haslam’s plan, called Tennessee Promise, would allow every high school graduate to attend community college free of charge for two years.

It sounds great when you hear it. But when you start scratching past the surface, you immediately uncover some inconvenient truths.

Tenn. Community Colleges Underperform Public Four-Year Colleges

Tennessee has the fifth lowest community college graduation rate in the nation. Only 8 percent of students graduate in two years and only 11.3 percent of students graduate within three years.

By comparison, nearly 20 percent of students graduate on time at four-year colleges and 45.5 percent of students graduate within six years — quadruple the rate.

Wow. Right? Public universities are four times more effective at getting students a degree than community colleges. The difference in graduation rates is even more pronounced among blacks and Latinos.

Breakthrough Collaborative, a national organization focused on boosting college graduation rates among underserved communities, issued a white paper in 2009 explaining why they focus on four-year college programs vs. community college.

“It is true that once students have their bachelor’s degrees, it makes little difference, in terms of earnings potential and job prospects, what path they took to get there. However, the likelihood of earning a bachelor’s degree is significantly reduced if a student starts her post‐secondary education at a community college, and the amount of time it takes to complete a bachelor’s degree (and potentially, the amount of loans a student accrues) is greatly increased. Additionally, research shows that the kinds of students Breakthrough serves—low‐income, minority, first generation—are less likely to transfer from community colleges to four‐year colleges and earn bachelor’s degrees. Therefore, the research supports the fact that students are more likely to complete bachelor’s degrees if they start their post‐secondary educations at four‐year colleges or universities.

If the research says the most effective way to increase college graduation rates is to send student to four-year programs, why does Haslam’s plan focus on the most ineffective way to boost graduation rates?

Mostly Re-Branding

Because it’s not a new plan. It’s just a bit of nifty re-branding.

As The Commercial Appeal’s Wendi Thomas put it, Haslam’s promise is “basically a repackaging of these Wilder-Naifeh technical skills grants and tnAchieves, just expanded.”

Qualifying high school graduates in Tennessee can already get a $3,000 Hope scholarship to cover tuition at state community colleges — that’s about 80 percent of total tuition costs.

Both the Wilder-Naifeh technical skills grants and tnAchieves, which operates in 27 counties, work to close the community college funding gap even more.

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

To make community college completely free, a roughly $800 gap per student, Haslam’s plan raids $300 million from the Hope Scholarship reserves, cuts Hope Scholarships by $1,000 for freshman and sophomores in four-year programs, and hikes tuition rates — again.

An official representing private colleges in Tennessee told WPLN Haslam’s plan isn’t fair to students in four-year programs.

“It’s a very laudable goal for the governor to want to provide access to the community colleges in this way, however, it really shouldn’t be done on the back of the freshmen and sophomores at the university level.”

Perhaps even worse is that Haslam’s funding mechanism raids the lottery scholarship reserves, which fund Hope Scholarships.

The Hope Scholarship was established to send more Tennessee students to four-year colleges. The program has been a smash success.

Unfortunately, Haslam’s new program cripples the Hope Scholarship’s ability to grow. With reserves down to $100 million, there will be no appetite to expand scholarships or increase grants, which is greatly needed due to inflation and year-after-year tuition hikes.

So instead of investing in four-year universities, which are four-times as effective at producing students with degrees, Haslam built a $34 million publicity machine that sounds nice but definitely won’t drive to 55.

Now that sounds like a clunker.

Obamacare Better Than Haslam’s Empty Promises

Haslam Medicaid PlanLast week Gov. Bill Haslam admitted the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion would make a big difference for working families and the struggling hospitals in Tennessee.

Even so, immediately thereafter, Haslam said there’ll be no Medicaid expansion, comparing federal health reform to a “clunker,” a run down car, as his reason for not expanding health coverage.

From Memphis Daily News, here’s Haslam:

“It’s all this federal money. It will help hospitals and it will give people better health coverage. All of that is true.”

So what’s Haslam’s reasoning for rejecting healthcare coverage for the hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans who are in need?

“The flipside is Medicaid already takes up a huge portion of our budget. As we expand that, that will make a bigger issue.”

Haslam says caring for working families is too expensive. Predictable, but what he doesn’t say is that taxpayers and the insured already care for people without insurance — in the most expensive and ineffective way possible — through emergency rooms, increased premiums and higher hospital fees.

Haslam’s second excuse is an insult to anyone who’s lived without health coverage.

“The expansion didn’t provide a way to have better health outcomes. It just increased the number of people we covered.

Some truth to Haslam’s blathering excuses: Health coverage saves lives. And being alive is a better “health outcome” than being dead.

dark_bill haslam

In 2009, the American Journal of Public Health published a study that found 45,000 deaths a year are linked to lacking health coverage. The study says uninsured, working-age Americans have a 40 percent higher risk of death than working-age Americans who have insurance.

Health insurance also protects our security and livelihood.  As of 2013, medical bills were still the number one cause of bankruptcy in America.

Haslam then said, “I honestly think we can do it better.”

Then do it. Last March, Haslam promised he was working on a plan to expand Medicaid. Nearly a year later, we’re still waiting — to even see the plan.

Working Tennesseans who don’t have insurance through work are counting on the governor to live up to his word. Hospitals and the healthcare workers, too. Just show us that this wasn’t just a political red herring.

Instead Haslam seems content doing nothing and selling his mirage as a healthcare plan while still blaming President Obama and Democrats for even passing Medicaid expansion, the aforementioned “clunker.” More from Haslam:

“So they are saying, ‘Here’s a clunker. Do you want this clunker?”

Yes, people want it. From October through December, 6.3 million Americans signed up for Medicaid health coverage.

Even if Medicaid health insurance were an unpopular “clunker” — it’s not — it’s clear families living without health insurance would rather have a real car from Obama than the empty promise of a great car from Haslam, maybe, someday.

Brandon Puttbrese is a public relations specialist and former communications director at the Tennessee Democratic Party. Find him on Twitter and Facebook.com

Haslam and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Monday

 

The mirage of integrity and honesty that Bill Haslam’s high-priced handlers have built around him drew major blows Monday.

Haslams_Alexander_words

Republicans for Healthcare (GASP!)
First, a group of Republican state senators in Tennessee turned the pressure up on Haslam to expand Medicaid — or at least unveil the “expansion plan” he’s been hiding for nearly a year.

The Republican doctors and pharmacists in the Senate announced they want to do “something” for the working poor. In this case, “something” is, in fact, better than nothing.

And while their plan is hazy at best, it’s a sure sign they recognize there’s a big problem brewing on the horizon if Tennessee continues to reject more than $1 billion worth of annual healthcare funding — widespread hospital closures.

When a hospital closes, it can take a whole community down with it. Some hospitals have shut down services in rural areas.

Yet Haslam has does nothing but blame Washington for his refusal to produce a plan like more than a half dozen Republican governors have already done.

More Guilty Pleas at Haslam’s Pilot
Secondly, three more employees of Pilot Flying J, the company owned by our “trust me, I’m a businessman” governor, pleaded guilty to stealing millions of dollars from company’s customers.

Ten — 10 employees of the governor’s company! — have plead guilty to fraud for scamming Pilot customers with a jacked fuel rebate program.

This is important because Haslam ran for office on his business credentials. Only to find out his company has been cheating working people and small businesses for years.

Now Haslam has routinely said he has nothing to do with Pilot’s management. A convenient answer. And maybe so, but it’s worth noting that Haslam’s Pilot holdings are the only piece of his vast investments that were left out of his blind trust. It’s a sign he wanted to stay involved with the family business, and he’s never answered for it.

Facts Enter Education Discussion
Third, on Monday, the top-down, one-size-fits-all education policies Haslam has been pushing through the legislature met a formidable roadblock — a TREE.

As has been custom the past few years, corporate education organizations have trotted out their privatization policies at the beginning of each legislative session. Their glossy, well-funded presentations always grab headlines and typically re-affirm Republican efforts that privatize public schools, divert money from our students’ classrooms and devalue educators.

This year, however, a new group, Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence, kicked off the week with some analysis that threw cold hard facts into the discussion of reforms trumpeted by Haslam’s administration.

Several points of interest:

Elaine Weiss of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, was TREE’s featured presenter. From TNEdReport.com:

“Weiss discussed recent Tennessee education policy in the context of the drivers of educational inequality.  She pointed to research suggesting that poverty is a significant contributor to student outcomes and noted other research that suggests as much as 2/3 of student outcomes are predicted by factors outside of school.”

The beauty of TREE’s press conference was two fold — one; they took some media coverage away from corporate education groups, and, two; they empowered our reporters with facts that have largely been missing from the education debate in Tennessee. Hopefully this presser will pay dividends for the weeks to come.

Sweetheart Deal for Haslam’s Business Pals Continues to Blow Up
And last, but not least. Perhaps, Bill Haslam biggest reason for a terrible Monday: the sweetheart contract he gave his Chicago-based business partners to rearrange state office buildings, which has outsourced Tennessee jobs and millions of tax dollars, has missed his self-proclaimed projected savings by $80 million and counting.

Haslam gave his business partners, Jones, Lang, LaSalle, a real estate corporation, a $330 million non-compete contract to shuffle state offices. Under the cooked agreement, the real estate company gets paid to make recommendations and sign leases for new office space, which creates an incentive for the company to recommend moving offices and selling buildings — even if it’s not in the best interest of taxpayers.

For instance, Haslam’s business partners got paid to recommend the Tennessee Lottery move out a building in MetroCenter the company called inadequate. Then got paid again to recommend the Department of Children’s Services move into the same building.

Haslam sold the plan by saying he’d save taxpayers $100 million. Just two years later, projected savings are already $80 million short, and anyone can see why. Haslam’s administration is decommissioning office buildings owned by the state in favor of renting space, which also has added costs. If renting produced such big savings in business, why doesn’t Pilot Flying J rent its truck stops and headquarters?

From healthcare to education and business fraud to business fraud, these are questions and issues I’m sure Haslam would prefer to not talk about.

But he asked for this job. And if he’s going to waffle, claim ignorance or push destructive policies, he should have to answer for it.

Medicaid Expansion and the “Not My Deal” caucus

Money down the drain

Money down the drain

Twenty-Four days and $60,000,000 dollars later, Tennesseans and the medical professionals that serve them are still suffering the ill effects of the State government’s inaction on Medicaid expansion.

Trace showed us this morning that the debate is getting contentious on the floor of the State House. And I gotta say, the comments from Rep. Barrett Rich (R-Somerville) are pretty disturbing. Here’s what he had to say…

…I think one point that hasn’t been displayed is we are many, many, many years…without an income tax. The reason we don’t have an income tax is ’cause we haven’t overspent…but we almost got to that point when we had Tenncare fully expanded. I just want to thank Gov. Bredesen for his leadership in dis-enrolling some…of the problem….Rep. Barrett Rich (R-Sommerville)

Now, I’m not going to dredge the whole Tenncare funding debate from 2005 back up for two reasons:

1. That was nearly a decade ago.

2. The funding situation from the Federal Government is VERY different now than it was in 2005.

So its disingenuous for Rich, and his friends in the State House to use that as an example.

At the time we had a Republican President who was more interested in spending billions of dollars on two wars than helping folks in the US…as evidenced by the lost economic decade that was the 2000’s…a decade that was capped off by an economic calamity that we’re still digging ourselves out of.

So there’s that.

Someone's mad about not getting a seat at the big boys table

Someone’s mad about not sitting at the big boys table

Another thing that I find VERY interesting is this post at Pith.

Here’s a couple of snips from that post:

Just taking Ramsey’s interpretation as correct, hospitals from all over the country struck a deal with Obama and, because Ron Ramsey, who is but one Lieutenant Governor from one state out of fifty wasn’t invited to the negotiating table, he’s punishing Tennessee’s hospitals?

–snip–

So, Ramsey is willing to let poor Tennesseans suffer — even after his own family’s medical crisis — not just because of his great conservative principles, not just because he’s concerned about how they’ll pay for this later, but because his feelings are hurt and hospitals have to be taught a lesson about hurting Ron Ramsey’s feelings. (Source)

Knowing what I know about the Lt. Governor, this is a pretty plausible analysis of the situation…aside from the general political sentiment that most State Republicans have about Obamacare generally…which is they’ll do anything in their power to break it regardless of who it might help.

Just another example of politics trumping people…sad state of affairs for the State of Tennessee.

Getting Under Their Skin

State Rep. Sherry Jones on the floor of the House

State Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville)

Take two minutes to see the squabbling on the floor of the House yesterday. Stay tuned for Rep. Butts statements at the end. I’d tell you to grab a bag of popcorn and a coke if it wasn’t so sad that this is really happening in our state. The democrats are getting under their colleagues’ skin on the other side of the aisle as you can see in this clip. From TN Report:

Medicaid Expansion: It’s all about politics…

Some more news on the Medicaid Expansion front yesterday.

State Sen. Lowe Finney (D-Jackson) informed us in a release yesterday that Gov. Haslam’s decision to not expand Medicaid in Tennessee will cost small businesses $72 million in tax penalties.

How Much Money will we give away?

How Much Money will we give away?

Way to run government like a business Gov. Haslam! Not only are you costing the state money…you’re costing employers money as well. That’s some economic miracle you’ve put together there! /snark

While some in the State Senate are looking for ways to patch the political stalemate, big time financial guys are bewildered at the state’s political leader’s fealty to what amounts to nothing more than political position.

The end result is rural hospitals, who will start feeling the pain first when uncompensated care payments are cut, are going to have to put pressure on rural politicians who will at first fight, then yield, then trumpet their achievement from the top of the highest hill as the savior of the local hospital…

In the mean time, Tennessee has given up over $57,000,000 dollars since January 1st thanks to the decision to not expand Medicaid.

Medicaid Expansion: $55m lost

This is OUR money going to OTHER states

This is OUR money going to OTHER states

I’ve written a fair amount about Medicaid Expansion over at my personal blog and the impact on regular folks here in Tennessee.

Over the weekend, Tom Humphrey noted a sign outside House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh’s (D-Ripley) office that details just how much the state is giving away every day since the beginning of the year.

Today’s version of that sign is included to the right.

Since the beginning of session, Tennessee House Democrats have delivered a short message about Medicaid Expansion…and the costs of not doing it, on the floor every day.

This morning, State Rep. G.A. Hardaway delivered the message. You can see it below.

If you would like to get updates from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus, follow their Facebook page at Facebook.com/tnhdc or follow them on Twitter @tndemocrats.