NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Six of the seven Republican senators who voted to kill Gov. Bill Haslam's proposal to extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans are enrolled in the state government health plan.
The state-insured senators include Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, according to records obtained by The Associated Press under state open records laws. During a committee debate, Gardenhire had declared that he uses private insurance.
The Senate Health Committee voted 7-4 on Wednesday to defeat Haslam's Insure Tennessee proposal that Haslam said would have brought $2.8 billion in federal money into the state at no costs to the taxpayer.
During the debate, newly-elected Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, suggested that lawmakers receiving government subsidies for their insurance should be more receptive to the governor's proposal to insure poor Tennesseans.
"Virtually every member of the Tennessee General Assembly receives some form of tax-subsidized health care," Yarbro said. "And before we make the decision to do nothing, I just think any members who are opposed or have doubts about this would offer some type of suggestion about what the governor's plan should be."
Those comments led to a rebuke from Gardenhire, who took to the microphone to declare that he was getting "resentful" of Yarbro's claims.
"I have very nice health care provided to me through my private employer," he said. "My wife's on Social Security."
When Yarbro tried to explain, Gardenhire cut him off. "I know you're new, but you need learn to respect us," he said.
Gardenhire on Thursday acknowledged that he is covered by the state insurance plan, but insisted he doesn't use it.
"I have it, but I don't use it. I use Morgan Stanley's insurance, which is far greater," Gardenhire said in a phone interview. "So I guess what I'm doing is subsidizing everybody else."
Gardenhire, who is halfway through his first four-year term in the Senate, said he was under the mistaken impression that he was required to be part of the state plan.
"When I signed up, everybody said, 'Here, sign these papers,' so I said OK," Gardenhire said. "I'm going to cancel it."
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported Monday that 88 of the 99 House members and 28 of the 33 senators are on the state employee health plan, even though they are not considered full-time state employees. The state's taxpayers pay 80 percent their premiums.
The other senators voting against the measure who have state insurance were Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains, Mike Bell of Riceville, Joey Hensley of Hohenwald, Brian Kelsey of Germantown, Rusty Crowe of Johnson City and Kerry Roberts of Springfield. All are Republicans.
Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, also voted against the measure, but does not have state insurance.
Other legislative leaders who have opted to enroll in the state health insurance plan include the Republican speakers of both chambers, Rep. Beth Harwell of Nashville and Sen. Ron Ramsey of Blountville.