Congressman Steve Cohen

Representing the 9th District of Tennessee

Cohen Again Urges Haslam to Save Money, Improve Health by Expanding TennCare

May 22, 2014
Press Release

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today reiterated his strong support for expanding TennCare, Tennessee’s Medicaid system, and once again offered to help Governor Bill Haslam swiftly extend health coverage to those who cannot afford coverage and are unable to take advantage of important protections of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) because of the Republican Governor’s inaction. In his third letter to the Governor on this topic in the last several months, Congressman Cohen also highlighted how a number of conservative governors—including Ohio’s John Kasich and Arizona’s Jan Brewer—have worked with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to expand Medicaid coverage to their states’ less fortunate.

“I am committed to ensuring that all Tennesseans are able to take advantage of the important protections made available by the ACA, not just those who already have access to health coverage,” wrote the Congressman in today’s letter. “By failing to expand TennCare, Tennessee is conveying a message that the State has little concern for the neediest, sickest, and most desperate of its citizens. While this may not be your intention, the reality of the situation remains that thousands of your poorest constituents are going without the health coverage that their counterparts in 27 other states are receiving, nine of which are led by your Republican governor colleagues. I remain committed to helping you and I again urge you to take swift action to expand TennCare.”

In today’s letter, Congressman Cohen also expressed his concern that progress towards expanding TennCare could be lost and prior effort wasted when HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius retires later this year.

Full text of the Congressman’s letter follows:

The Honorable Bill Haslam
Governor
Tennessee State Capitol
First Floor
Nashville, TN 37243

Dear Governor Haslam,

I am writing to reiterate my strong support for the expansion of TennCare, as prescribed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As I have previously stated in my earlier letters from November 14, 2013 and February 11, 2014 on this topic (copies of which are enclosed), I am committed to ensuring that all Tennesseans are able to take advantage of the important protections made available by the ACA, not just those who already have access to health coverage.

By failing to expand TennCare, Tennessee is conveying a message that the State has little concern for the neediest, sickest, and most desperate of its citizens. While this may not be your intention, the reality of the situation remains that thousands of your poorest constituents are going without the health coverage that their counterparts in 27 other states are receiving, nine of which are led by your Republican governor colleagues. I agree with a number of these governors on their reasoning for expansion, especially Governor John Kasich of Ohio who has explained that Medicaid expansion “is a matter of life and death” and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer who said “There comes a time [when] you have to look at reality. It's not only a mathematical issue, but it's a moral issue." 

I am deeply concerned that you have yet to work out an expansion plan with the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). I have an excellent relationship with Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and, as I have shared with you before, I am ready to help you negotiate a mutually agreeable expansion plan with her and her staff. However, Secretary Sebelius’s remaining tenure at HHS is short as she is set to retire soon and will be replaced with Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the current director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. I look forward to working with Director Mathews Burwell in her new capacity at HHS but this transition means that my personal relationship and history of coordination with Secretary Sebelius will no longer be of use in resolving this issue as we must start over in educating the new Secretary on Tennessee’s unique healthcare delivery system. This is particularly unfortunate and could have been avoided had you acted sooner.

I remain committed to helping you and I again urge you to take swift action to expand TennCare in accordance with the ACA. It is simply wrong that Tennessee is requiring its poorest residents to bear the greatest risk when it comes to their health. Since this population was meant to receive Medicaid coverage, they are not eligible for the health insurance premium subsidies made available to those whose incomes exceed theirs. Lack of health coverage not only means that they cannot see the doctor when they are sick, but it means that they cannot see the doctor when they want to avoid getting sick. The cost savings of preventive practices like regular mammograms and colonoscopies are only available without cost sharing for those who already have health coverage. Preventive medicine saves money, but refusal to expand TennCare means that the most vulnerable Tennesseans will be the sickest Tennesseans. It is cruel that “the least of these” are now the ones asked to forgo the most: basic, preventive care and the opportunity to take control of their future health.

Please contact me so that I may assist you in your negotiation with HHS.

As always, I remain,
Most sincerely,

 

Steve Cohen
Member of Congress