The Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted Wednesday against moving forward on Governor Bill Haslam's Insure Tennessee, in effect killing the program that foes said was an endorsement of "Obamacare."
Senator Todd Gardenhire was among those in opposition on the panel. Others voting against the measure – Mike Bell (R), Janice Bowling (R), Frank Nicely (R), Brian Kelsey (R), Kerry Roberts (R), and Rusty Crowe (R).
Voting for Medicaid expansion were Dr. Richard Briggs (R), Becky Massey (R), Ed Jackson (R), and Jeff Yarbro (D).
Terry Lee, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, "pointed to Senator Gardenhire’s opposition as part of the cause."
He said, “Clearly Governor Haslam was wrong when he told President Obama to trust Republicans to care for ‘the least of these’ because Senator Gardenhire is willing to leave over a quarter of a million Tennesseans without healthcare. It’s clear that he puts politics before the people of his district.
”The governor’s plan provides an estimated 280,000 hard-working Tennesseans with federally funded health care and is supported by a number of health care advocacy groups as well as major hospitals and medical professional organizations."
Chairman Lee also said of Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey’s and Speaker Beth Harwell’s "lukewarm support" that “The failure of Insure Tennessee lays squarely at their feet. Their inability to pass Insure Tennessee is a direct result of their lack of leadership and will continue to devastate the lives of hundreds of thousands of hard working Tennesseans.”
Senator Yarbro, the lone Democratic member of the Senate Health Committee, released the following statement on today's vote ending the prospect of passage for Insure Tennessee during the extraordinary session:
"Lawmakers have spent two years trying to find a solution to expand access to health care in our state, but it took only two days for the legislature to vote it down. It's disheartening that seven Senators can make this decision for 6.5 million Tennesseans.
"This conversation isn't over. Democrats will continue to make the case for expanding access to affordable health insurance in Tennessee. We will continue to work with the governor and with common-sense members of both parties to move past politics and do what's right for Tennesseans."
Officials of the conservative Beacon Center said, "The Beacon Center applauds legislators for rejecting a Medicaid expansion in Tennessee. Instead of supporting this extension of Obamacare in our state, lawmakers stood with the Beacon Center and fought for what was right, choosing taxpayers over special interest groups.
"While the Beacon Center disagreed with Governor Haslam's plan, we do want to thank him for bringing an important issue to light and trying to come up with a unique Tennessee solution to this issue. We also believe those who supported Insure Tennessee had the best of intentions, and we look forward to working with them in the coming months to find a responsible, cost-effective, free market solution that will truly benefit low-income Tennesseans.
"While stopping the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare was a necessary first step, it is still our responsibility as Tennesseans to find affordable healthcare solutions for our most vulnerable neighbors.
"To that end, Beacon is calling for passage of right-to-try legislation that would allow terminally ill patients to access potentially life-saving medicine. Beacon will also work with state leaders to expand access to charity care, reduce the costs imposed by health insurance mandates, and allow Tennesseans to purchase health insurance across state lines."
"There are many things we can do to make healthcare and health insurance more affordable and accessible for all Tennesseans," said Lindsay Boyd, Beacon director of policy. "We look forward to rolling up our sleeves and getting to work helping those most in need."
The group Americans for Prosperity claimed that "a sea of red shirts in committees and the halls of legislative plaza turned the tide against the Insure Tennessee Medicaid expansion proposal.Over 200 activists with Americans for Prosperity converged on the Capitol for the committee hearings yesterday. They came from all areas of the state: Knoxville, Memphis, Chattanooga, and Tri-Cities; many volunteers took off work and drove four or more hours to attend."
After the vote AFP-TN state director Andrew Ogles stated, “We couldn’t have done this without our grassroots activists showing up to hold their legislators accountable. This is truly a victory for the Tennessee taxpayers.
“We commend the senators voting to defeat this measure and other legislators who led the fight. Thank you for listening to your constituents and voting to stop Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in Tennessee.”
Douglas J. Springer, president of the Tennessee Medical Association, said, "We are disappointed at today’s outcome of the debate regarding Insure Tennessee in the General Assembly.
"TMA supported Governor Haslam’s plan because it offered a viable alternative to traditional Medicaid expansion and had potential to help improve our public health and contain costs.
"We have now missed an opportunity to help hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans who need access to quality, affordable medical care.
"Tennessee’s doctors will continue taking care of our patients, and do our part to help find solutions to improve access, increase quality and reduce the cost of healthcare in Tennessee."
House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh said, “When 280,000 Tennesseans are just hours away from getting insurance, Republicans get cold feet and walk away. This is an insult to Governor Haslam, a betrayal of our constituents and proves that Republicans are totally incapable of governing. In my 21 years of service, I cannot recall being more disappointed than I am today.
"I hope no Republican has the audacity to file for per diem, because they wasted three days looking for an excuse to vote against Insure Tennessee. For my part, I will return all mine later this week. Going forward I hope the governor calls us back into special session again and again until we get this right. This isn't over."
Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) commended his senate colleagues for their deliberation and their decision.
“The vote yesterday was a victory for Tennessee taxpayers. Our health care system needs reform, but Obamacare Medicaid expansion was not the right solution. I look forward to working with my colleagues and the governor to continue to press Washington to offer states full flexibility in administering health insurance,” Kelsey stated.