Top Tennessee voices differ on effects of senate health care plan

Lamar Alexander (Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Navigating your own health care is complicated business, but trying to figure out what the U.S. Senate health care plan means for Tennesseans can be overwhelming, even for those well-versed in the lingering questions surrounding how we get and pay for our medical needs.

Over the past few days, we have heard from two very different voices about the impact of the senate plan, starting with a video message late last week from Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and followed up Monday by Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper.

Both understated and thoughtful trying to navigate what it might means, but Rep. Cooper minced few words about why he is opposed to the measure.

Before a group of reporters Monday morning at his Nashville congressional office, Cooper says lawmakers on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill “should be panicked” over the senate bill.

“It will be a huge burden on states to keep Medicaid programs alive,” said the congressman.

Jim Cooper (Photo: WKRN)

They are potentially ominous words for the nearly one-point five million low income Tennesseans who depend on the state’s Medicaid program TennCare for their medical needs.

Washington funds about two thirds of TennCare, but critics like Cooper say the federal money will be less in coming years under the senate plan– putting the burden on state governments.

He says Tennessee lawmakers would have to come up with more taxpayer dollars or allow fewer people on TennCare, and the state’s medical community has a rare, united front against the bill.

“Seldom if ever have I seen such unanimity, the hospitals, the doctors, the nurses, you name it, are pretty much against it,” he told the group of reporters.

Last Tuesday in a video statement, Sen. Alexander said the bill helps fight costly premiums for those on Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“Overall, it slows down the skyrocketing cost of premiums, which in Tennessee have gone up 176 percent over the last four years,” said Sen. Alexander, who also chairs the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee.

The senator says the bill increases Medicaid funding for all those on Tenncare at the rate of inflation, but he indicated the measure will have his continued scrutiny as the bill could change this week.

“As the bill goes to the senate floor as it will be subjected to virtually unlimited amendments, and my focus will be on how does it affect Tennesseans,” added the Senator, who also touted the measures funding to fight the opioid epidemic and tax cuts that were used to fund parts of Obamacare.

Rep. Cooper says the only health care solution that would work from Washington would be a bipartisan one.

Like Alexander, Tennessee’s other senator, Bob Corker, has stopped short of fully endorsing the Republican health care plan.

Early Monday, Sen. Alexander sent the following statement:

The Congressional Budget Office report is helpful information for every senator to consider as we review the draft Senate bill and look at how it will affect our states. I’m encouraged that CBO says premiums would begin to fall under this bill starting in 2020, especially in states that take advantage of the new flexibility available under the bill. It’s important to remember that the alternative to this bill is current law that leaves 162,000 Tennesseans who make less than $12,000 a year without aid to buy insurance, and as many as 350,000 Tennesseans in the individual market facing the real possibility of having zero insurance options next year.