Referendum on Insure TN rejected; Democrats blame Durham

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to place Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal before the voters in November has been defeated in a House subcommittee.

The House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee voted Wednesday to study the bill sponsored by Democratic Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley (HB2545) after the General Assembly adjourns.

Haslam last year proposed extending health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans. The Tennessee Hospital Association had pledged to cover the entire $74 million state share of the program to draw down $2.8 billion in federal Medicaid funds over two years.

But Republican lawmakers rejected Haslam’s plan last year amid fears that it was too closely linked to President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

Haslam wants to wait and see who the next president is before deciding how to proceed.

Note: Democrats blame defeat of the bill on Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, who is otherwise facing an investigation into alleged sexual harassment. News releases below.

News release from the House Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE- Today, Representative Jeremy Durham, formerly the third ranking Republican leader, used a procedural gambit to prevent the people from even voting on the Governor’s Insure Tennessee plan.

House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh’s bill would have put the question of Insure Tennessee on the ballot this November. Despite admitting in committee that some of his own constituents were for the Governor’s plan, Durham moved the bill into summer study over the objections of committee Democrats.

The ballot question would have been non-binding to the legislature: it would simply allow the people of Tennessee to answer the question of whether or not they want to expand Medicaid in our state.

“We already know that most Tennesseans do want Insure Tennessee to be implemented. We have polling that shows no matter the political leanings of respondents, the majority of Tennesseans want access to healthcare. They are tired of our state leaving money on the table in Washington,” the Minority Leader stated. “We are charged with making sure that we do the bidding of our bosses—the voters and citizens of the state of Tennessee. By not allowing this language to go on the ballot this fall, we are failing in our job description as office holders.”

State Representative Larry Miller moved a companion resolution that would authorize the Governor to move forward with Insure Tennessee, but withdrew the bill because he did not have sufficient support among Committee Republicans.

“It’s simply a failure of Republican leadership”, Miller observed. “If the Republican leadership would support their own Governor, we could begin expanding this important healthcare coverage starting now. Instead, the people of Tennessee will have to stand and watch as a billion dollars of their taxpayer money goes to states like Kentucky and Louisiana who are expanding coverage at no cost to their taxpayers. Hopefully in this election year, voters will remember who voted against the poor and the working poor.”

News release from Tennessee Democratic Party:
NASHVILLE, TENN. (March 16, 2016) — TNDP chair Mary Mancini released the following statement today regarding the vote in the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee on Insure Tennessee Medicaid expansion and Rep. Jeremy Durham’s actions.

“Today Jeremy Durham killed an Insure Tennessee bill that could have provided access to affordable healthcare to hard working women across the state. It is unbelievable that Speaker Harwell still allows him to hold that kind of power in the State House.

“With his inappropriate behavior, Rep. Durham created a toxic work environment for women at the Capitol. Now, he’s denying vital and affordable healthcare access to thousands of women. His actions today are repulsive. And so is the fact that he is not being held accountable by Republican Leadership.”