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I am reminded of an inscription above the arched doorway of a hospital I once read--“The wealth of a nation lies in the health of its people.” No one can argue with that. You can be …
I am reminded of an inscription above the arched doorway of a hospital I once read--“The wealth of a nation lies in the health of its people.” No one can argue with that. You can be the richest person on the planet; if you don’t have your health, you have nothing. That makes accessible affordable healthcare the single most important issue we face as a nation.
To date Tennessee has led the nation in rural hospital closures per capita—11, with several others currently in jeopardy. Six of the closures are in West Tennessee—Brownsville, Somerville, Selmer, Trenton, Humboldt, and most recently, McKenzie. Bolivar survives for now only because it is a part of the West TN Healthcare system. Decatur is on life support. When hospitals leave an area, so do jobs, not only medical personnel but support staff. In general, people do not want to live in areas that don’t have medical care nearby. All of these hospital closures were due in great measure to the inability of the hospital to absorb the cost of uncompensated care.
In the past, hospitals were reimbursed, at least in part, for uncompensated care through the “Disproportionate Share Fund” from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. This kept especially smaller hospitals afloat. The Affordable Care Act then channeled that same pool of reimbursement money at no cost to the states, to expand Medicaid providing lower income people with insurance to pay for their care. To date, 38 states have either expanded Medicaid or are in the process. Tennessee is not one of them. Our Republican-led legislature even turned down Gov. Haslam’s plan, Insure Tennessee, leaving to date almost 6 billion of our tax dollars on the table--sent to other states who expanded.
Two years ago, my husband and I, strong advocates for healthcare held two information events in McKenzie. We invited the mayor, the state representative, and the community. Our message was simple. Your hospital is in jeopardy of closing. Please support Governor Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan to keep it open. There was very little interest. Your state representative, Andy Holt, told my husband that he did not support Insure Tennessee. Consequently, the Republican-led legislature in 2015 killed Insure Tennessee in committee. It never even came to the floor for a vote. And three years later, your hospital closed.
Healthcare should not be a partisan issue; it is simply a moral issue. However, there are only four candidates on your ballot this election who will support Medicaid expansion. They are Phil Bredesen, Karl Dean, and Dean Arganbright. Just remember-- no matter how much money you have, no matter how great your insurance is, whether you are black or white, rich or poor--if you are an hour away from the nearest hospital when you have an accident or a heart attack, you die just the same. Vote like your lives depend on it, because they do.