Every day that our state legislature doesn’t act on expanding Medicaid, there are thousands of families that face the consequences. For years we have rejected funding from the federal government to provide healthcare for Tennesseans in the “coverage gap” (i.e. people making between 95% and 138% of the federal poverty wage per year). This gap encompasses 280,000 people in our state, including low-wage workers, small business owners, students, and 24,000 veterans. These Tennesseans don’t have access to affordable preventive care, regular screenings, or life-saving surgeries.
Tennessee loses an estimated $3.5 million dollars per day when we don’t expand Medicaid. In 2014 the ACA introduced federal taxes that are allocated to help fund state Medicaid expansions. Currently, Tennessee taxpayers pay into the federal government for a program that the state legislature refuses to utilize. The state has not only lost this valuable funding but between 15,000 and 20,000 jobs due to 13 hospital closures in recent years. The healthcare industry is part of any community’s infrastructure, just like water, electricity, internet, and postal services. In rural communities where hospitals have closed, the only access to healthcare is in the back of an ambulance. In some rural areas, it can take 45 to 60 minutes for an ambulance to reach a patient and another 45 to 60 minutes to get to the closest hospital.
Rural Tennesseans have been hit the hardest since 2014, as many rural residents are low wage workers and often uninsured. For-profit healthcare systems cannot be profitable in rural Tennessee – just like a for-profit postal service would never survive as the sole provider for a rural community. At some point, our elected officials are going to have to step up, remember that they work for the betterment of citizens (not lobbyists), and make the decision that saves lives.
We need to expand medicaid now.