Health Care

Alexander, Murray propose bipartisan, short-term Obamacare deal

Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray say they have reached an agreement on a bipartisan Obamacare deal to fund a key insurance subsidy program and provide states flexibility to skirt some requirements of the health care law, reports Politico.

There is no assurance that the agreement will get to the Senate floor, however. Republicans on Tuesday were lukewarm about the prospect of resuming debate over whether to try to prop up Obamacare after multiple failed GOP attempts to repeal the law.

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Harwell, Casada reject Democrats’ call for special session

In a perhaps unusual move, House Republican leaders have responded to Thursday’s House Democrats holding a news conference and issuing a press release urging a special legislative session on Medicaid expansion.  (Usually such Democrat doings are ignored.) They spurned the idea.

House Speaker Beth Harwell: “As Speaker of the House, I believe that instead of calling for a wasteful special session to expand a program that is failing, we as State Representatives and Senators should instead call on Congress to return healthcare back to the states without strings attached so we can begin to develop a better, more affordable program for Tennesseans.”

House Majority Leader Glen Casada“As Republican leaders of our state, we want to get rid of the disaster of Obamacare, not support a broken healthcare system that has become a drain on Tennessee families and backed insurance providers into a corner. 

Republicans want real solutions, not political promises that would result in more bureaucracy, higher costs, and drive a bigger wedge between patients and doctors. Obamacare has caused insurance rates to skyrocket to a point where the middle class can no longer afford coverage. 

Medicaid expansion has been an abysmal failure for those states that have participated. Here in Tennessee, we are committed to improving the health and quality of life for all Tennesseans through free market principles that demonstrate real results.

Note: The House Democratic Caucus press release is posted HERE.

Fitzhugh calls for special session on Medicaid expansion

News release from House Democratic Caucus

Nashville—House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh is calling for Gov. Bill Haslam to convene a special session of the legislature in the wake of the Graham-Cassidy bill failing to garner enough votes in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

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Alexander to try again on bipartisan Obamacare fix

With plans for a U.S. Senate vote on the latest Republican proposal to repeal Obamacare abandoned, Sen. Lamar Alexander said today he will restart efforts to come  up with a short-term bill that can win bipartisan support.

Here’s the press release:

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Medical marijuana task force hears cannabis critics

The first meeting of the legislature’s Joint Ad Hoc Committee on Medical Cannabis ran about five hours with much of the lawmakers’ time spent listening to concerns that legalizing use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is a slippery slope, reports WPLN.

At the meeting, lawmakers were repeatedly told medicinal use of marijuana would lead to abuse. Experts spoke of supplies contaminated with other drugs, the difficulty of keeping legally purchased marijuana from being resold and stories of underage children dying after ingesting marijuana.

The testimony drew pushback from one of medical cannabis’s big supporters.

“You need to be fair,” said state Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby (the committee co-chair). “If we’re going to hold marijuana use for medical purpose to a standard, then compare it to what’s going on right now that’s legal and that’s encouraged by a lot of doctors.”

Faison argued that marijuana is less dangerous than many opioids and psychotropic drugs.

An excerpt from WTVF TV’s report:

The state Department of Health’s Chief Medical Officer, David Reagan, said he believes medical marijuana hasn’t been studied enough to legalize in Tennessee.

“We support doing additional research. The FDA, more the DEA from our perspective, has traditionally been, for 100 years, has been an organization that exemplifies getting us safe and effective medicines,” said Reagan. Until marijuana’s schedule one designation changes, Reagan said he doesn’t think it will be studied to the level it needs.

And House Speaker Beth Harwell, who appointed House members of the panel, continues to be asked about the subject as she campaigns for governor. From WJHL TV, reporting on her campaigning in the Tri-Cities last week:

“We’re not talking about recreational at all, I’m not for that. I’m not even for smoking marijuana, that causes cancer,” Harwell said. “I’m for oils and edibles and something that can help a lot of people who are suffering from chronic pain.”

The panel plans future meetings in the Knoxville and Memphis areas.

TennCare director bucks national group, backs Haslam on Obamacare bill

The National Association of Medicaid Directors is criticizing the Graham-Cassidy health care bill that faces a U.S. Senate vote next week, reports Nashville Post. But with Gov. Bill Haslam supporting the proposal as “flat-out good for Tennessee” — Tennessee’s Medicaid director, Wendy Long, stands with her boss rather than the national organization.

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HHS chief’s June Washington-to-Nashville trip cost $17,760

A June trip to Nashville from Washington is being cited in national news media as an example of how U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price flew by charter airplane at taxpayer expense rather than taking less expensive commercial flights.

From Politico, which says Price has taken 24 charter flights since early May at a cost of more than $300,000 to taxpayers:

HHS officials have said Price uses private jets only when commercial travel is not feasible.

But many of the flights are between large cities with frequent, low-cost airline traffic, such as a trip from Washington to Nashville that the secretary took on June 6 to make a morning event at a medication distributor and an afternoon speech. There are four regular nonstop flights that leave Washington-area airports between 6:59 a.m. and 8:50 a.m. and arrive in Nashville by 9:46 a.m. CT. Sample round-trip fares for those flights were as low as $202, when booked in advance on Orbitz.com. Price’s charter, according to HHS’ contract with Classic Air Charter, cost $17,760.

A Tennessean report of Price’s visit to Nashville at the time says he made a morning visit to Dispensary of Hope, a subsidiary of Saint Thomas Health and Ascension that ships medications across the country to free clinics and charitable pharmacies. He called it “wonderfully inspiring.” In the afternoon, Price made a speech, centered on opioid addiction, to a conference on drug abuse organized by Healthy Tennessee and Vanderbilt’s School of Nursing.

UPDATE/NOTE: In another report, Politico highlights an August chartered private jet trip to St. Simons Island, Ga. — where he owns property, and had the jet arriving Friday for a Sunday meeting – along with providing more details on the Nashville trip. Seems he owns a condo in Nashville and his son lives in the city — and they had lunch during the trip. Excerpt on the Nashville part:

The afternoon (Nashville) event was the first-ever Healthy Tennessee Summit organized by Dr. Manny Sethi, an orthopedic surgeon and prominent local Republican who’s met with President Donald Trump and was featured as an “Obamacare victim” in a White House video posted in June.

Sethi, who says he hasn’t given money to Price, has nonetheless donated $15,000 to the Tennessee Republican Party since May 2016; the party’s Twitter feed hailed Sethi last year as “one of our closest friends.” Sethi also said that Price has been a mentor for years.

In his remarks, Price reminisced about his longtime fondness for Sethi, and both men referenced Price’s personal ties to the city — chiefly, that his only son went to Vanderbilt University and still lives in the city. Price also owns a condominium in Nashville valued at more than $150,000, according to county records.

Price’s agenda in Nashville, which was planned just days in advance and came as Senate Republicans were trying to pass a bill repealing major parts of Obamacare, was also lightly scheduled, say individuals with knowledge of Price’s travels. Price spent less than 90 minutes combined between his two scheduled events — about an hour touring the Dispensary of Hope medication dispensary in the morning, and about 20 minutes giving his speech at the Healthy Tennessee Summit in the afternoon

Haslam, Alexander & Corker back latest Obamacare repeal effort

Gov. Bill Haslam is cheering for passage of a new U.S. Senate proposal for repealing Obamacare that he says is “flat out good for Tennessee.” Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker indicate they’ll vote for it, though there’s lots of criticism from doctors, hospitals, veterans and Democrats.

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TN health insurance rates increased; Congress criticized

News release from Department of Commerce and Insurance

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance (TDCI) announces today the approval of insurance rates requested by the three carriers offering coverage on the Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM) ahead of Open Enrollment for 2018.

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Alexander’s bipartisan Obamacare fix fails

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington have given up on their push for a bipartisan bill to continue federal subsidies for health insurance under Obamacare as a short-term fix for individual health insurance market.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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