Where is responsibility from Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee?
* Tennessee falls near the bottom of all states in terms of the percentage of the population fully vaccinated — 10.4%, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 vaccine tracker as of Wednesday. Alabama has vaccinated 10.3% of its population, and Georgia — which comes in dead last — has vaccinated 10.1% of its population.
Aside from Southern states' general GOP leanings, might Lee's shoulder-to-shoulder, unmasked chats on Lower Broadway in Nashville last week — despite the city still having a mask mandate — have anything to do with Tennesseans blasé attitude about getting vaccinated? Might his refusal to initiate a statewide mask mandate indicate we have nothing to fear? Might his insistence that Tennessee is "open" despite our once-again rising COVID numbers say we needn't worry?
* One of Lee's top legislative priorities for the year is a bill Republicans have named "constitutional carry" which would allow people 21 and older and military members ages 18-20 to carry handguns without a permit. No permit at all. It applies to both concealed and open carrying of guns. It is opposed by law enforcement. So much for the governor's claims of supporting law enforcement.
* Perhaps Lee's least showing of responsibility and empathy has been in continuing to ignore the state's growing need for Medicaid expansion for our state's 300,000 to 600,000 uninsured and underinsured residents caught between the state's Medicaid plan and the Affordable Care Act.
Despite reasonable people urging the state's top GOP leaders for years to accept the federal funds that pay 90% of the cost of expanding our state's Medicaid program, Gov. Lee and other top Republican officials adamantly oppose widening the net for TennCare. Even now with President Joe Biden sweetening the deal with the new American Rescue Plan.
Instead, Lee and Tennessee lawmakers chummed up to former President Donald Trump and signed up Tennessee to be the first state to receive that administration's approval for a Medicaid modified block grant — a so-called "shared savings program."
The new waiver doesn't add any new needy Tennesseans, even though thousands of people are getting COVID and losing jobs and work-based health care. Why? Because they say that would mean there is no "shared savings" under the waiver that caps Tennessee's federal help at 7.9 billion of our federal tax dollars. What's more, because realizing shared savings relies on the state finding ways to effect more "efficiencies" in the program, it may well cut the care offered now.
The only "deal" here was for the Trump administration, which wouldn't have extended the offer had it not meant a savings for the federal government and feather in Trump's hate-Obamacare MAGA cap. (Even during the Trump years, expanding Tennessee's Medicaid would have meant the federal government would have paid Tennessee about $1.4 billion more to expand Medicaid coverage to all eligible Tennesseans.)
Clearly this was — and unfortunately still seems to be — more about partisanship than about health care.
What's really unfathomable about all this is that now, no one seems to be asking what COVID has cost Tennessee Medicaid over the past year.
This is important because under the ACA, known in our state as TennCare, the federal share of payments for an expanded Medicaid would have gone up along with the state's share. So no matter what a raging epidemic did to the state's Medicaid program, under the expanded version the feds would still be paying 90% and Tennessee 10% of the cost.
Does anyone think the state could find enough "efficiencies" to help a capped federal share pay for Tennessee's health care during the worst health pandemic in a century?
But, no. Gov. Lee said last week that Tennessee doesn't need the ACA or Biden's extra money. Tennessee doesn't need the tax dollars we're going to pay whether Tennessee gets its share of it or not. Thursday, he backtracked and said we will take the relief money. Wonder why?
That means Tennessee now is at least not going to miss out on a portion — about $1.7 billion — to provide some care for the working poor already on TennCare, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Lee maintains the ACA is "fundamentally flawed." We think it's his thinking on this matter that is flawed.
* There is one thing Lee has done this past year that we think is good, even smart. He followed through with his call last July to relocate the bust of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, an early KKK leader, from the Tennessee state Capitol. After he appointed the necessary majority of members to Tennessee Historical Commission some months ago, the panel last week voted 25-1 in favor of moving the bust to the Tennessee State Museum.
"Forrest represents pain, suffering and brutal crimes committed against African Americans, and that pain is very real for our fellow Tennesseans as they walk the halls of our statehouse and evaluate how he could be one of just the nine busts elevated to a place of reverence," Lee told the Historical Commission in a video message recorded for the meeting.
We applaud his courage and empathy on the matter.
We just wonder where that kind of courage and empathy is for health care and gun safety.