Members of the Mercy Junction Ministry lead a prayer circle for the uninsured before protesting against Sen. Todd Gardenhire while staged in The Main Terrain city park adjacent to the Hamilton County Pachyderm Club's luncheon.
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State senator Todd Gardenhire speaks to the Hamilton County Pachyderm Club during their luncheon in this file photo.

Gardenhire Bill


A group of protesters sang and prayed loudly outside the Hamilton County Pachyderm Club meeting on Monday, while inside state Sen. Todd Gardenhire tried to walk fellow Republicans through his controversial decision to vote down Insure Tennessee.

"Thanks for helping the poor!" several of the protesters yelled as local Republicans filed into their weekly Pachyderm lunch meeting. "Ask Gardenhire how he likes his health insurance! The vets would like some, too!"

Gardenhire, who was the featured speaker at Monday's meeting, was one of seven Republican legislators to vote down Gov. Bill Haslam's Insure Tennessee plan earlier this month.

Brian Merritt, co-founder of Mercy Junction, a ministry that operates the Justice and Peace Center in Chattanooga, read the parable of the Good Samaritan, where a Jesus instructs a rich young ruler to love his neighbor.

"Who is Todd Gardenhire's neighbor?" Merrit asked.

"It's supposed to be all of us!" replied Sam McKinney, who is uninsured.

Inside, Gardenhire sought to justify his decision, saying a confluence of factors led to his decision, including a lack of information about the plan, and the fact that health care companies like hospitals and nursing homes stood to profit from the increase in federal spending.

"Of all the hundreds of emails I got telling me to support this plan, only one was from someone who wasn't going to profit off it it," he said. "Nobody was excited about taking care of patients. But they were sure excited about getting the money."

Gardenhire also reiterated that Erlanger's financial turnaround and the hospitals' agreement to help foot the bill for expansion with an assessment fee, a move he said was made "with a wink and a smile," made him less sympathetic to hospitals' plea for the plan to be approved.

Ultimately, he said "the numbers just weren't there." A more "sustainable" plan could have been worked out in six to nine months, he said.

"Everybody begged [Haslam] to put it off," Gardenhire said.

As Gardenhire spoke, the group with Mercy Junction prayed that Gardenhire and other public officials would have a change of heart.

"Many of these people with chronic health problems can't afford to wait for the wheels of democracy to turn in another year," said Mercy Junction co-founder Beth Foster. "Because by then many will be dead."

Read more in Tuesday's Times Free Press.