Listen to constituents, not play politics

Guest Column

Why did six of Tennessee’s nine Congressmen support House Speaker Paul Ryan’s deeply flawed American Health Care Act?

The bill had the support of only 17-percent of Americans when Ryan finally withdrew it last week.

Why were some Congressmen – including the delegate from this district -- eager to vote against the wishes of their own constituents? Did Tennessee Congressmen Diane Black, Marsha Blackburn, Jimmy Duncan, Chuck Fleischman, David Kustoff, and Phil Roe have information that the rest of us lacked?


They simply ignored many crucial facts that made their constituents dislike the bill. Any one of those facts should have caused the Congressmen to oppose the proposal:

• Ryan’s bill unfairly denied Tennessee a level of Federal Medicaid funding on a par with that provided to almost all of the other states, leaving us behind even neighbors like Mississippi and Arkansas.

Why were our Congressmen prepared to permanently fund care for vulnerable Tennessee seniors at little more than half the rate Washington sends to New York or Rhode Island to care for their frail elderly?

• Ryan’s bill would have cut Tennessee’s Federal Medicaid funding by $500 million a year. That would drastically cut care for the nearly 1.6 million vulnerable Tennesseans who rely on TennCare, including for example:

• 61-percent of Tennesseans in nursing homes

• More than half of babies born each year, and almost all newborns who require intensive care

• More than half of all Tennessee’s children; that includes vulnerable groups like kids in foster care, and children with severe physical and mental disabilities.

• The bill’s end of insurance exchanges that allow individuals to buy affordable private insurance — a component of Obamacare, and cuts in Medicaid funding would have caused many rural hospitals to close, damaging the health care infrastructure and economies of the communities they serve.

• Ryan’s bill would have left 575,000 more Tennesseans uninsured, and it would have forever prevented our state from adopting Governor Haslam’s popular proposal to provide coverage to 280,000 working Tennesseans who are presently struggling without coverage.

• The bill did nothing to fix the parts of Obamacare that many people dislike, including high deductibles. Instead, it wrecked those parts of Obamacare that help millions of Americans.

In their haste to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, the six Congressmen apparently didn’t consider those crucial facts.

These questions are critical, because these issues continue. President Trump and Speaker Ryan still want Congress to press for the end of Obamacare. They still want to cut Federal Medicaid funding to the states.

Obamacare needs repairs.

Political turmoil has destabilized insurance markets and threatens the insurance of millions of American families, including many in Tennessee. As Senator Lamar Alexander warns, doing nothing is not an option.

So, the next time our Congressional delegates consider health care, they should have all the facts. They need to vote in the interests of their constituents by improving health care rather than defunding it.

Malcolm Getz is an associate professor of economics at Vanderbilt. His views do not necessarily represent those of the University.