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Hill named to health care access task force; Democratic opponent Fischman calls entity 'a charade'

Tony Casey • Updated Apr 14, 2016 at 9:11 PM

The Democrat challenging Republican Matthew Hill for the 7th House District seat can’t make sense of the incumbent’s selection to a legislative task force that will be looking at access to health care in Tennessee

Why Hill was chosen — along with three other male Republican state representatives — is one aspect Nancy Fischman can’t understand, but what she questions most is the need for the task force given the ready availability of the Insure TN.

“I think the task force is a charade,” Fischman said. “We already have a plan that was worked on for two years and has the go-ahead from the federal government.”

Fischman serves as the Washington County Democratic Party chairwoman and also Tennessee Democratic Party Executive Committeewoman for Tennessee’s 3rd District.

Insure Tennessee was a program proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam, to help offer health care coverage to the approximately 280,000 Tennesseans who fall into a gap between Medicaid — TennCare in Tennessee — and those who can sign up for coverage through President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. This expansion of the Medicaid program would be funded in full by federal taxpayer dollars for three years at about $1.8 billion annually. After those three years, the program would be funded at 90 percent.

Hill said joining the task force will be a difficult undertaking, but he’s looking forward to rolling his sleeves up and working with his peers to find a balance between what the federal government and president want to expanding health care to those who fall into the gap.

“We want to roll out a pilot program that's small enough to manage it and also small enough measure its effectiveness,” Hill said.

After that, it’s possible that it could be expanded. Meetings haven’t started yet, but Hill said it could start with trying to provide for coverage for 150,000 people in that gap, albeit in a careful way.

“We're trying to take the population of people who are working and making too much money for TennCare and too little to get on a subsidy,” he said. “They just can't afford Obamacare. That's what it comes down to.”

Hospitals across Tennessee, looking to draw in these currently uninsured people who would be good for their business, agreed they would pay to cover that 10 percent gap, just to put Insure TN in place. But to this date, Insure TN has not been brought to the floor for a vote.

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell has faced pressure from groups across the state recently, as well as signed petitions, to bring the Medicaid expansion program to the floor for a vote, but that’s not happened.

Roger Kane, who joined Hill on the task force, has criticized Insure TN, citing his beliefs as a fiscal conservative. Hill said they work well together to get legislation done and expects the same on this task force.

“The question was asked, 'How many people can we put on this program before we run out of money?' when we were on Insure Tennessee,” he told The Tennessean. “And the answer is we don't know. As a fiscal conservative, I just can't throw open the doors and say we'll take care of it when we take care of it,” Kane said.

Kane called Halsam’s program “kind-hearted but not fiscally conservative.”

Fischman said this is a topic she discusses every week with the area’s fellow Democrats and has even penned five letters to Harwell herself. As she moves along in the race with Hill, she said health care will be a major issue on her platform.

According to a poll reported in The Tennessean, a majority of state residents support Insure TN. An April 8 article said that icitizen — a local civic tech startup — said about 78 percent of Tennessee supports Insure TN. Figures like that one, and that the state has lost approximately $3 billion by not expanding its Medicaid program, has Fischman questioning the morals of the state’s Republicans.

“This is just them kicking the can, to make it look like they’re doing something,” Fischman said. “I would say that it's time to bring it to the floor and vote on it.”

Haslam, Fischman said, spent two years, going over the details of Insure TN with the thoughts and concerns of the state’s Republicans in mind, tweaking it to the point it’s at now, and there’s no reason to delay it any more, especially when hospitals are closing and people are dying because they don’t have access to health care.

The Tennessee Justice Center gave credit to Harwell’s efforts, but put pressure on her to come up with results.

“Making it possible for working Tennesseans to have health coverage is an urgent challenge that affects us all in one way or another,” the group said in a statement. “We are grateful that Speaker Harwell is taking up leadership on this issue, for there is an enormous amount at stake. The test of that leadership will be whether it produces a solution that meets the urgent needs of working families, of our struggling rural hospitals and of our state’s economy.”

Email Tony Casey at tcasey@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.

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