Drew's views

Drew's views

March 29th, 2013 in Opinion Free Press

HEADLINE: Haslam won't expand insurance for poor

THE RECAP: Rather than expanding TennCare to cover additional low-income Tennesseans under Obamacare, Gov. Bill Haslam told a joint session of the General Assembly this week that he sought approval of a plan to let the state take $1 billion or more in annual federal funds provided by the federal Affordable Care Act to subsidize private insurance on a health care exchange. It is unknown whether U.S. Health and Human Services officials will permit Haslam's self-described "Tennessee Plan."

DREW'S VIEW: The sensational headlines and incorrect assumptions related to Haslam's decision might lead many to believe the governor is leaving low income uninsured Tennesseans high and dry. That simply is not true.

If the feds allow Haslam's plan, every single person in the state will have access to health insurance. The governor's proposal covers all people under 100 percent of poverty not currently included in TennCare, and even the people in the 100 to 138 percent of poverty range that don't necessarily receive insurance options through the Obamacare insurance exchanges.

In fact, Haslam's "Tennessee Plan," if implemented, actually allows the poorest people in the state to have access to the same insurance plans available to all Tennesseans, rather than relegating them to the often poor health care options available under TennCare, the state's Medicaid system.

The reality is that Haslam did, in fact, wisely decide against expanding TennCare. While the federal government claims it will heavily reimburse states for expanding their Medicaid coverage, that money is only guaranteed for three years. After that, states may well be picking up the tab for most or all of the cost for the new Medicaid enrollees.

The last time Tennessee massively expanded TennCare roles, less federal funds were available than officials initially hoped. As a result, Tennesseans had to fight off an income tax and were ultimately slapped with an enormous sales tax increase.

For conservatives, Haslam's proposal is a bit like kissing your sister -- it's not ideal, but it's a little better than nothing. The Tennessee Plan is flawed in that it accepts federal tax dollars, costing taxpayers and adding to the debt, but at least it injects more choice and free market forces than would be available under Obama's Medicaid expansion scheme.

Oddly, most of the opposition to Haslam's plan is coming from the left. That is a particularly stunning development since the only reason to oppose Haslam's plan is if you honestly believe that poor people deserve worse health care options than other Tennesseans. Apparently, some liberal lawmakers, activists and healthcare interests are so committed to blindly championing what President Obama wants that they don't care about what would actually be best for nearly 200,000 low-income Tennesseans.


HEADLINE: Tennessee lawmakers confuse mop sink in State Capitol for Muslim foot-washing sink

Legislative staffers and building administrators have sought to reassure some concerned lawmakers that the new sink was not installed as a special facility to support Muslim prayer rituals, but rather to make it easier for custodial staff to fill buckets and clean mops.

Legislative staffers and building administrators have sought to...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

THE RECAP: During renovations to the Tennessee State Capitol, a new utility sink was installed in the men's restroom outside the House Chamber. At least two state lawmakers expressed concern to state employees that the sink might actually be a special sink for Muslims to wash their feet before praying. The lawmakers have since been assured that the sink is intended for mops and buckets.

DREW'S VIEW: Another day, another example of Tennessee state lawmakers embarrassing themselves, and residents of this state, while coming off like bigots.

The newly installed utility sink replaces a previously existing mop sink that may have been the smelliest, moldiest, grossest sink I've ever had the misfortune of encountering. And it was the first thing that men passed (and got a whiff of) when they entered the most-used bathroom in the State Capitol.

It boggles the mind that some hollow-headed state lawmakers thought that replacing the filthy, disgusting old utility sink with a new one that actually drained and was closer to the ground, so janitors didn't have to struggle picking up heavy mop buckets filled with dirty water was actually a mysterious Muslim conspiracy.


HEADLINE: Breweries launch 'High Tax Ale' to urge legislative change

THE RECAP: A special joint offering from Tennessee craft brewers Yazoo and Calfkiller features an unusual sales pitch to beer aficionados: "Now With Even More Taxes!" The new product going on sale this week is the latest effort among brewers to draw attention to Tennessee's highest-in-the-nation tax scheme for beer, which impacts high-end brewers' ability to compete.

DREW'S VIEW: Rather than charging a flat tax rate levied on volume, Tennessee is the only state that taxes beer based its on cost. As a result, rather than all brewers paying a set fee for each barrel they produce, better, more expensive beers are hit with much larger state taxes than cheap brands.

This tax is particularly punitive for local breweries which, because of the time, care and lack of automation associated with their beer, sell more expensive products -- even though they often operate on lower margins and earn much less in revenues.

The state legislature is considering converting the state's 17 percent tax to standard $35 per barrel levy, regardless of the final price of the product. That move would finally create a level playing field the local breweries that are active supporters of the Chattanooga community.

"Drew's views" is a weekly roundup of Free Press opinions about topics that recently appeared in the Times Free Press. Follow Drew Johnson on Twitter: @Drews_Views.