Pam's Points: Haslam yields to ACA website, crunch time for Berke's anti-crime efforts

Pam's Points: Haslam yields to ACA website, crunch time for Berke's anti-crime efforts

January 8th, 2014 in Opinion Times

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam

Photo by Staff File Photo/Times Free Press.

Haslam's Obamacare back-pedal

Remember how Tennessee's Republican Gov. Bill Haslam joined many other GOP governors in dismissing the Affordable Care Act and not taking the money offered with Obamacare to expand Medicaid - TennCare in the Volunteer State?

You probably remember the official rant: The federal program was so terrible and the rollout was so botched and everything was so behind and bad and the state could do it better ...

Well, with little fanfare - in fact, not even a heads-up - TennCare enrollees who arrive now for their annual one-on-one appointments and re-registration are being handed a blue card and sent to a computer kiosk to apply for state-operated Medicaid through, you got it, the ACA's HealthCare.gov website.

But it gets better. Tenncare recipients are having to add to the already stressed HealthCare.gov site because Tennessee's rollout of its own required "single online application process" (that would include quick, real-time feedback like HealthCare.gov) is itself so far behind that state officials won't estimate a completion date.

The state's $35.7 million program ($32 million from federally allocated money) began more than 12 months ago. A state spokeswoman blamed the delay of TEDS (the Tennessee Eligibility Determination System) on a lack of "federal guidance." Never mind that Georgia and several other states managed to get their systems up and running just fine.

So it turns out that the governor who has been talking about making Tennessee "ready to work" in the computer-heavy 21st century has so failed with Tennessee's own online-application program that it had to pass off a state responsibility to the "botched" Obamacare application system.

Rep. JoAnn Favors, of Chattanooga, hit the nail on the head in talking with Times Free Press reporter Kate Harrison: "To me, that shows a deficit in state management," Favors said. "If it's not ready, why would you shift such a tremendous need over to the federal government - especially when [state officials] have been so critical of that site?"

Youth shooting focus

Youth shootings in Chattanooga more than doubled in 2013 compared to 2012. Last year, the city recorded 122 shooting incidents that injured 139 victims.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke made crime - and particularly gun violence - a priority when he took office in April.

He took advantage of ongoing federal drug investigations to shape a new program he is calling the Violence Reduction Initiative. The numbers of shootings in the last two months of 2013 took a dive after 32 people were arrested in early November. Berke's new program will include a "come-to-Jesus" meeting expected in March when the next round of so-called "worst" criminals are rounded up. But then, Berke says, special help will be offered to entice those and other trouble-makers to change their ways.

Shooting numbers and cases compiled by Times Free Press reporter Beth Burger show that the late-year shooting drop followed another slump in April after a March 24 gang "truce."

Unfortunately, the truce didn't hold. Now we must hope that Berke's program will hold.

For that to happen, however, he must show the community that the November arrests - criticized as racist because all the men were black - will give way to the outreach promised: Job opportunities, education opportunities - alternatives to crime.

Cold hard facts

The brutal cold and the plight of homeless people with no shelter was hard to watch this week.

And while Chattanooga City Council members blasted questions at the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition's new executive director on Tuesday, they ultimately voted to give the coalition $50,000 in emergency funds to staff an after-hours shelter at the Community Kitchen.

The new director and former board member, Steven Wright, acknowledged that the coalition didn't apply for money at budget time, citing his agency's lack of leadership then. The former executive director had resigned.

Fortunately for the homeless, the city has leaders. And on Tuesday, although it was bitterly cold outside, their hearts were warm.