New York Times
September 1, 2005
By BOB HERBERT

 

The word in Tennessee is that Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, has presidential aspirations. I find that interesting. Perhaps he can run on the success he's had throwing sick people off of Medicaid.

Thanks to Mr. Bredesen's leadership, Tennessee is dumping nearly 200,000 residents, some of them desperately ill, from TennCare, the state's Medicaid program. Cindy Mann, a research professor and executive director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute, concisely characterized the governor's efforts:

"What he's decided to do is save health care costs simply by not giving people health care."

How's that for a solution to a tough public policy issue?

What is happening in Tennessee is profoundly cruel. The people being removed from the rolls - some of them disabled, some suffering from such serious illnesses as cancer and heart disease - are mostly working-poor individuals who cannot afford private insurance. They are being left with no coverage and in many instances are in a state of absolute panic.

"People are going to die because of this," said Carolyn Cagle, a widow from Paris, Tenn., whose 34-year-old son, Lloyd, is a diabetic who has already lost part of his right foot. He is being dropped from the program.

Phil Dedrich, a resident of Waynesboro, has also been notified that his coverage is ending. "I am very sick," he said in a statement distributed by opponents of the cuts. "I have severe coronary artery disease, including a 70 percent blockage of my aorta, lung disease, thyroid disease, diabetes, painful neuropathy from the diabetes and high blood pressure."

In addition to the people being dropped from the rolls, benefits are being cut for hundreds of thousands of TennCare participants, and there is a chance that 100,000 more people will lose their coverage next year.

"I'm scared," said Terilyn Gotlieb, a TennCare enrollee whose prescription coverage was reduced sharply. Kidney disease has all but destroyed Ms. Gotlieb's family. She told me her mother, her grandfather, a brother and a sister all died from the disease. Ms. Gotlieb herself underwent a kidney transplant in 2000. She's in constant pain from a broken back she suffered in an auto accident last year, and she's severely depressed.

In a normal month Ms. Gotlieb takes 12 medications, but now TennCare will pay for only 5 and she can't afford the other 7. "I'm scared that if I don't get the right medication, I'm going to end up back on dialysis and lose my kidney I fought so hard to keep," she said. "I could die."

Medicaid was established to provide health coverage for the poor. In the 1990's the TennCare program extended Medicaid benefits to low-income working people who could not otherwise secure health insurance. Among those hailing the program at its inception was Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican who is now the Senate majority leader. At the time he was the surgical director of the Transplant Center at Vanderbilt University.

Mr. Frist called the program a "bold experiment" and wrote in a newspaper article that "the extension of coverage to working Tennesseans without health insurance is necessary to reduce the need for hospitals to shift these costs to patients who have insurance."

TennCare reduced the number of uninsured residents in the state by one-third and indisputably saved many lives. But the program ran into problems. Parts of it were mismanaged by state officials and by managed care organizations that performed so poorly they either had to be taken over by the state or their contracts were terminated. More insidious is the fact that residents of Tennessee (which limits its state income tax to dividends and interest income) are even less willing than their counterparts in most other states to pay for crucial public services.

So rather than do the heavy lifting necessary to shore up an important and admirable program, Governor Bredesen resorted to the draconian, life-threatening expedient of severing the health coverage of people who have nowhere else to turn.

 

Perhaps that's what one should expect from a former managed care executive. Governor Bredesen's Web site notes that before entering public service, he "was a successful health care entrepreneur."

Bullet Points for Legislators

  • Single Payer saves money.  For the past 20 years, states have commissioned studies on different types of health care systems.   In EVERY case, single payer was shown to be the only way to cover everyone and the only system that saved money and controlled costs.

  • Publicly financed does not mean government run health care.  YOU have publicly finance health coverage, but the government does not make decisions regarding your health care.

  • Cost conscious patients often don't get the care they need.   Most decisions are made by the doctor in concert with the patient, but the patient relies on the doctor's knowledge to make a decision.  Expensive tests and treatments cannot be ordered by the patient, only the doctor.

  • Lifestyle choices are not what is fueling high costs in health care.   The United States ranks low in general health indicators, but high in good health habits.  We smoke less, drink less and consume less animal fat that many other countries with better health indicators and much lower health care costs.

  • Businesses can accurately determine their health care costs and are not subject to unanticipated large premium increases.

  • It will reduce labor costs due to a more efficient way of financing health care, eliminating much wasteful administration.

  • Workers' Compensation costs will be reduced, likely by half, due to the fact that everyone has health coverage and there is no need for the medical portion.

  • It reduces the need for part time employees and provides easier recruiting.  There are no pre-existing conditions or Cobra issues.

  • Eliminates the oversight of health benefits and bargaining health coverage with employees.

  • It creates healthier personnel and more stable employees, reduces absenteeism and eliminates employer health coverage complaints.

  • It reduces employee health related debt and personal bankruptcies.

  • It frees up family income that can be spent on other goods and services, thus stimulating the economy.

Tips for Writing Letters to Editor

Follow guidelines for your local paper (word count, submission instructions, etc.)

Frame your letter in relation to a recent news item Use state specific data whenever possible (let us know if you need help finding some!)

Address counter arguments

Be aware of your audience and emphasize how Medicare for All is good for ALL residents of the state

Criticize other positions, not people Include your credentials (especially if you work in the healthcare field)

Avoid jargon and abbreviations

Don’t overload on statistics and minor details

Cover only one or two points in a single letter

Avoid rambling and vagueness

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