Dwindling Tenn. Democrats To Keep Pushing For Medicaid Expansion

Democratic leaders Mike Turner and Craig Fitzhugh outline their 2014 legislative agenda to reporters on Tuesday. Credit: Blake Farmer / WPLN

Democratic leaders Mike Turner and Craig Fitzhugh outline their 2014 legislative agenda to reporters on Tuesday. Credit: Blake Farmer / WPLN

Democrats in the Tennessee legislature plan to keep pressing Republicans to accept federal money and expand the state’s Medicaid program. The minority party is sticking with the same legislative priority after failing to make headway last year.

Seen one way, Tennessee is passing up a windfall over the next three years that would provide health coverage for at least 150,000 of the state’s working poor. The White House offered the money as a way to entice states to expand their Medicaid programs.  Tennessee and other Republican-led states in the south have balked at the offer.

Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) says he and other supporters of President Obama have failed to make a compelling case.

“I have yet to figure out why we’re not doing this,” Fitzhugh said Tuesday. “I’m afraid people don’t know what they’re not going to have until its too late to get it.”

By estimates cited by Democrats, the state is now giving up $2.5 million a day in federal money. Besides the Tennesseans who would otherwise have insurance, Democrats are warning that some rural hospitals will close if the state continues to pass up the funding.

Rep. Mike Turner (D-Old Hickory) – the party’s second-in-command – said some of the hospitals in trouble are represented in the state House by Republican lawmakers who don’t believe the dire warnings.

“You know, there’s people who don’t believe in global warming. There’s people that the earth doesn’t rotate around the sun. There’s all kinds of people that believe what they want to believe,” Turner said.

While Democrats are unlikely to have success in the Republican-dominated legislature, they have released a legislative agenda. It includes raising the state’s minimum wage, providing pre-K for all children, and requiring the Commissioner of Education to have a decade of classroom experience.

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