NASHVILLE - Six of the seven GOP senators who shot down fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's proposal to insure 280,000 low-income Tennesseans with federal dollars have their own state government-subsidized insurance through the Tennessee employees' insurance plan, records show.
Among them is Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, who clashed with a Democratic Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville Wednesday when Yarbro pointed out "that virtually every member of the Tennessee General Assembly receives some form of tax-subsidized health care."
Retorted Gardenhire: "I have a very nice health care [plan] provided to me through my private employer."
Following Wednesday's meeting, Gardenhire said in an interview he was on the state employee health plan. But he said he has never used it and relies instead on his private insurance.
According to records provided at the request of the Times Free Press and other news organizations by the Department of Finance and Administration, other Republicans voting against Haslam's Insure Tennessee who are on the state health plan, which funds 80 percent of employee premiums, are: Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville, Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown, Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains, Sen. Kerry Roberts of Springfield and Health Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe of Johnson City.
The issue first surfaced in a Times Free Press article on Monday that pointed out 116 of 132 senators and representatives had state-government subsidized coverage with Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, saying her colleagues should take that into account when dealing with the governor's proposal.
State Legislative Administration officials last week provided totals but refused to divulge names of lawmakers on the program, citing federal privacy laws. But state Finance officials released the records, saying they had checked with attorneys.
This story was updated at 12:30 p.m. A previous version said 117 lawmakers have the coverage. The number is 116.