Despite odds, Medicaid expansion advocates build support during community forum

Zach Vance • Sep 17, 2018 at 10:09 PM

Getting Medicaid expanded in Tennessee will not be an easy feat, but that’s not stopping dozens of nonprofits across the state, like the Tennessee Health Care Campaign, from rallying support among those that could benefit the most. 

Over 20 people attended a Monday evening forum, titled “The Growing Case for Medicaid Expansion,” at Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church to learn about Medicaid expansion and how it could benefit at-risk populations, especially those who can’t afford employer-based health insurance plans. 

“This evening, we brought community and volunteers together to talk about the importance of Medicaid expansion to the state. Many people think that Medicaid expansion won’t pass in Tennessee for various reasons, since there have been attempts in the past. However, we have reason to believe that there is growing support, not only across the U.S. but in Tennessee, as well,” Jacy Warrell, executive director of the Tennessee Health Care Campaign, said.

“We want to share with everyone the newest information, data and research that shows how Tennessee could join the 34 other states that have already expanded Medicaid, how Medicaid expansion has benefited the other states and how Tennessee is losing out because we have not expanded Medicaid.”

According to statistics Warrell shared during the forum, Tennessee loses approximately $3.8 million each day in federal tax money that goes to other states’ insurance programs that chose to expand Medicaid. Since 2014, Tennessee has lost an estimated $5.4 billion. 

If Tennessee chose to expand Medicaid, Warrell said it would generate approximately 15,000 jobs and protect another 13,000 health-care related jobs that are currently in jeopardy. 

Opponents of Medicaid expansion often claim only those who are unemployed would benefit from expansion, Warrell said, but she said the additional coverage would actually assist those who don’t have access to employer-based insurance, or they do and just can’t afford it. 

Among those professions who would benefit are construction workers, hotel maids, sales associates, service workers and taxi drivers.

In Northeast Tennessee, over 31,000 people do not have access to employer-based health insurance, with 7,924 of those people in Washington County; 4,011 in Carter County and 1,219 in Unicoi County. 

“We are concerned about the nearly 300,000 people in Tennessee that don’t have employer-based insurance. This impacts their health outcomes. They’re not able to see a doctor to get preventative care, they’re less likely to go to an emergency room to receive treatment if they need it and their conditions oftentimes get worse or more costlier if left untreated,” Warrell said. 

Since many “red states,” like Kentucky and Arkansas have already expanded Medicaid, Warrell said expansion should not be positioned as a partisan issue but rather a moral issue.

Although Tennessee cannot put Medicaid expansion on the ballot, voters in Nebraska, Idaho, Utah and Montana will have it on their ballots in November, which could increase the number of expanded states from 34 to 38.  

Josh Everett, a member of the Tennessee Justice Center, told the audience that it’s important for proponents of expansion to educate their candidates on the topic, meet with them and ask how they plan to fill the healthcare gap. Warrell said her organization does not endorse specific candidates, but it does try to get voters registered. 

The latest Vanderbilt poll, released in May, showed 66 percent of Tennesseans support expanding health care insurance coverage. 

Everett said Medicaid expansion might seem unlikely in the state, considering recent attempts by Gov. Bill Haslam have failed, but he pointed to Virginia as inspiration, since it’s largely-conservative legislature recently voted to expand. 

“It didn’t happen overnight,” Everett said.

Among the candidates who attended and support expansion were: Independent Murphy Johnson, who is running for the state’s 6th House District; Democrat Arvil Love Jr., who is running in the 2nd House District; and Democrat Marty Olsen, who is running in Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District. 

Before concluding, Everett asked each person in the audience to write down the names of five people to invite to the next forum, scheduled for Oct. 4 at Munsey.  



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