Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam claims that he is still undecided on whether to set up a health-insurance "exchange" under Obamacare. His decision will come soon - the federal government has given Haslam until Dec. 14 to decide.
If Haslam needs advice on which way to turn all he needs to do is look out the window of his office in the Tennessee Capitol at noon today. Across the street at Legislative Plaza, hundreds of informed and concerned Tennesseans are expected to gather in opposition to a state exchange.
At the rally, doctors, small business owners, state lawmakers, radio hosts, preachers, community leaders, students, retirees, members of groups such as the Chattanooga Tea Party and Tennessee Tax Revolt, and Tennesseans of every color, creed, background and political party will join in unison to beg Gov. Haslam not to force a federally controlled state exchange on Tennesseans.
There are plenty of good reasons why so many Tennesseans are against the idea of the exchanges, which are essentially online stores where government-mandated health plans are forced on small businesses and the uninsured - driving many health insurance carriers out of business along the way.
For starters, state exchanges aren't actually state-managed. The Goldwater Institute, a free market think tank based in Phoenix, points out that the federal government will be "in complete control of the exchange - from who can participate to what plans they can offer and prices they can charge." The only role the state would play is funding the expensive scheme, which is estimated to cost Tennesseans upward of $50 million annually.
Many state leaders understand that the notion that the exchanges localize decision making and empower states is laughable. Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga - one of many state lawmakers against a state exchange - recently stated "[we'd prefer] to throw it back to the federal government to have them clean up their own mess." Ben Cunningham, the founder of the Nashville Tea Party, accurately calls state exchanges "part of the effort to turn state government into a branch office of the federal government."
State exchanges empower the federal government to levy outrageous fines on small businesses. Under a state-funded exchange, businesses of 50 employees or more will be fined at least $2,000 per employee if they fail to offer comprehensive health insurance, according to the Goldwater Institute. Businesses in states rejecting the exchanges won't be subject to federal fines.
Further, state exchanges allow millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded handouts to the government's preferred insurance companies. Sensitive personal medical information will also be shared with the government under an exchange.
The federal government has no power to force a state to create an exchange. Additionally, states can establish an exchange in the future if they miraculously turn out to be valuable to state residents. Since federal start-up funds to allow states to create exchanges will be available until the end of 2014, there is absolutely no reason for Tennessee to rush into an exchange now.
Most conservative governors understand this. To date, 19 Republican governors have rejected the exchanges. Only five have agreed to implement them.
Haslam's waffling seems to be an indication that the he is leaning heavily towards a state exchange - despite the fact that a state exchange would be bad news for the people of Tennessee.
Why would Haslam join the small number of Republican governors to implement a state exchange? He won't unless he's one of a small cadre of governors who lack the conservative principles, the common sense and the intestinal fortitude to stand up to President Barack Obama and the bureaucrats in Washington.
Gov. Haslam has until Dec. 14 to either prove that he is wise, responsible and reasonable, or choose to cast aside any claim of conservatism and shackle Tennesseans with a costly, federally-managed exchange.
The decision is yours, Mr. Governor, but if you're curious about what most Tennesseans want you to do, just look out your office window. There you'll see just some of the people who hope you'll "just say 'no'" to an exchange.