On the Issues
“Every single person you meet, from your own family, to your teachers, to the person who fixes your drink at the coffee shop has their own experiences that have also worked to shape and drive their lives. In order to grow and move our region forward, we must work to ensure that each of these individual's stories and experiences are valued equally as we continue to lift one another up and progress forward.”
There are over 270,000 Tennesseans who live without their own health insurance. With nearly 14,000 of them as Washington County citizens, I am constantly reminded of the need to push forward in our fight for quality healthcare for every person in Tennessee. It is time that the people of our community have leadership that will take a stand for those hard-working families, support legislation to expand Medicaid, and ensure that every one of our citizens have the health coverage they need and deserve.
- Medicaid Expansion
In Tennessee, Medicaid is currently managed through a program known as TennCare. While in many states Medicaid is used to help adults with an income up to 138% of the federal poverty level, Tennessee’s TennCare program limits membership. Under the current model, TennCare primarily serves children, pregnant women, individuals over 65 years of age, those with a disability, and those individuals who need care similar to what is traditionally provided by nursing homes.
The current TennCare model does not allow membership for other groups such as veterans, those under the age of 65, and those with mental disabilities.
For this reason, many of these individuals and families live their lives without health insurance of any kind. If we want to close the coverage gap for Tennesseans, then we must build an expansion plan that does not restrict membership, but is offered to anyone who falls within the guidelines outlined by the federal government.
In 2014, the Tennessee State Legislature passed legislation (HB 937) to require all Medicaid expansion plans be formally approved by them. Over the years, two potential expansion plans, one by Governor Haslam (R) and another by Speaker Harwell (R) both failed and neither were adopted. Without the adoption of a Medicaid Expansion plan, Tennesseans continue to lose $1.4 Billion of their federal tax dollars each year. If we want to see expansion move forward and our citizens receive the coverage they deserve, then we must repeal the 2014 legislation that continues to hinder Tennessean’s access to healthcare.
When discussing Medicaid expansion, it is also important to debunk one common myth associated with Medicaid expansion. Many believe that a tax increase would be required to cover the costs of the expansion. This is not true. At least 90% of the money required for expansion must come from the federal government. For this reason, there are little financial risks associated with expanding Medicaid in the State of Tennessee.
Across our region, men and women are ceaselessly working to earn just enough money to provide food, shelter, and security for their families. With many forced to work for more than 40, 50, or even 60 hours a week, it is time that we take a stand for those hardworking families. While we continue to fight for increased jobs and economic opportunities, we must push back against those leaders who put corporations and big money before the health and safety of their employees. We must protect their right to participate in collective bargaining, unionize, and continue to demand a living wage so that many in our community will no longer be forced to live their lives in poverty.
Under current law, Tennessee remains what is known as a “right-to-work” state. Despite what the name says, “right-to-work” does not have to do with an employee’s right to be employed.
Instead, the right-to-work laws were written as a way for businesses and corporations to tear down unions and prevent workers from fighting for better wages, better hours, and better working conditions. To do this, right-to-work laws stop unions from collecting dues from the individuals they are working on behalf of. This ensures that unions do not have the financial resources needed to lobby and bargain on behalf of workers.
In Tennessee, our leaders passed the right to work law by saying it would help protect and support working Tennesseans, however, this is not true. On average, workers in states with right-to-work laws, such as Tennessee, make nearly 12% less than those who live in states without right-to-work laws. Those workers in right-to-work states are also less likely to have health insurance and more likely to pay many of those costs out of pocket. These right to work states also have higher levels of poverty, higher infant mortality, and less funding for schools. If we want to truly support Tennessee workers, then we must repeal Tennessee’s Right-to-Work laws and stop our legislature from choosing big money and corporations over our hard-working families.
On average in Tennessee, a single adult with no children should be making roughly $21,000 a year to cover basic living expenses such as food, healthcare, transportation, clothing, and housing. Despite this, however, a minimum-wage employee who works full-time in Tennessee is currently only making $15,080 per year (before taxes.) This amount can be significantly lower for those working in other industries such as food service.
It is time that our Tennessee leaders stand up for the hard-working and dedicated people of our state and ensure that businesses and corporations stop robbing workers of the wages they deserve. We must fight for a living wage that will allow our hard-working citizens pay for the basic necessities they need to live. No Tennessean should work full-time and still be forced to live in poverty because of our legislature’s failure to pass a living wage.
Tennessee is home to nearly 500,000 veterans who have fought for and defended the American people both in the United States and across the world. Having risked their lives to serve our country, many of these brave men and women return to our community without a job, without healthcare, and without a place to live. Proud to have the Mountain Home VA as a part of our community, veterans continue to hold a special place in the hearts of Washington County residents. It is time that we stand up and demand more for these service men and women who have risked so much to serve us. We must continue to fight for healthcare, employment opportunities, and support for these brave individuals while also protecting the services they already have.