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Moving Margins: Expanding Medicaid

2/4/2014

Dear Governor Haslam,

The staff of the Metro Human Relations Commission hopes you had a great holiday season and a happy new year. The staff also sends its congratulations on last night’s State of the State.

The MHRC is sending you this note in the hopes that you will reconsider your position on expanding Medicaid in Tennessee. The staff knows this is a complicated issue, and it must be vetted with an eye toward the future. The MHRC also knows that the expansion has to be judged by the positive impact that it will have on people’s lives. You are surely aware that 16% of Tennesseans (1,033,000) do not have healthcare and that healthcare debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States.

The Metro Human Relations Commission loves the idea of everyone being able to pave a path for themselves that leads to financial and physical health. However, if someone has an illness that makes it difficult to get a job that will allow them to pay for insurance, how can they start down that path? If the crushing debt of healthcare leaves Tennesseans in a winless situation, how can they create a healthy life for themselves?

Obviously, you have various people pressuring you on many sides. The Commission just hopes you come down on the side of compassion. No matter what pundits or politicians say, people’s lives are in the balance. And, 140,000 of those lives are children. No one can argue against the idea that having health insurance is better than not having health insurance. And, for the MHRC staff, this issue comes down to the notion that everyone should have access to affordable healthcare, period. Tennesseans should not be punished for not having enough money to pay for insurance or work at a job that does not offer it.

Everyone is postulating your reasons for delaying the decision on Medicaid expansion and most of the theories have to do with the backlash from different parties in the state. You are in one of those unenviable situations when the right thing and the popular thing are at odds. And, when one is put in that position, it is sometimes difficult to see the forest for the trees. However, from the staff’s perspective, this is a choice between popularity and people’s lives. And, while that’s, clearly, an oversimplification of a very large and complicated issue, it is, nonetheless, true.

The MHRC asks for your bravery, Mr. Governor. The sooner Medicaid is expanded, the more futures you will save.

Sincerely,

The Staff of the Metro Human Relations Commission