Munsey to host community Medicaid expansion forum

Brandon Paykamian • Sep 11, 2018 at 9:17 AM

As the gubernatorial race continues between Republican Bill Lee and Democrat Karl Dean, the issue of Medicaid expansion in Tennessee remains a central point of debate between the two parties. 

Though more than 60 percent of Tennesseans support the expansion of Medicaid, the 2015 Tennessee General Assembly Fiscal Review Committee reported that Tennessee has lost and continues to lose about $3.8 million dollars in federal health care funding each day. This is money advocates of Medicaid expansion say could offset a significant amount of costs of uncompensated care hospitals provide to uninsured patients. 

To further discuss the issue, the Society Committee of Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church and the Tennessee Health Care Campaign will host a community forum titled “Signs of Progress: The Growing Case for Medicaid Expansion,” at Munsey on Monday, Sept. 17, from 6:30-8 p.m.

The forum will feature local speakers who will discuss the “unmet needs of Tennesseans who do not have employer-based health insurance and the ripple effect of uninsured populations on the rest of Tennessee.”

Dr. Aubrey Lee, one of the organizers of the Munsey forum, said he became interested in the issue of health care access during his time working at Johnson City Medical Center years ago as a director of personnel and media relations, where he often tried to help people understand the need to expand access to health care. 

“Munsey is sponsoring this in order to help spread the word about the need to expand Medicaid,” he said Wednesday. “We’re going to have discussions on the downsides of losing $3.8 million a day for not expanding Medicaid.”

More than half of the 32 states that have expanded Medicaid since 2015 have had state legislatures dominated by the GOP, but much like the other 17 states that have not yet done so, Tennessee’s Republican lawmakers have been largely resistant to Medicaid expansion. 

“I believe Medicaid expansion is not the answer to improving health outcomes in Tennessee because access to care and quality of care in states where the program has been expanded have been negatively impacted by high volumes of patients attempting to utilize a system that already pays less for care than the actual cost,” Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, wrote in an emailed statement, adding that “studies and surveys have shown” the system to be ineffective. 

“Tennessee has previously attempted to expand TennCare, and it practically bankrupted our state,” he said. 

In states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, Aubrey Lee said rural hospitals have closed down and continue to experience fiscal difficulties. 

“These hospital closures come from states that didn’t accept Medicaid dollars,” he said. 

Tennessee Health Care Campaign Executive Director Jacy Warrell said the economic impact on Tennessee's uninsured goes far beyond these closures. 

“Diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension cost our state $5 billion a year,” she said. “A plan to move Tennesseans out of last place in state health outcomes is not a plan at all if 280,000 Tennesseans live without access to a family doctor.”

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