As COVID-19 cases spread, Tennessee Democrats push healthcare for uninsured

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 09, 2020 4:38 PM CT | Published: March 09, 2020 3:42 PM CT

Editor’s note: Due to the serious public health implications associated with COVID-19, The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed.

House Minority Leader Karen Camper said Monday she hopes to meet with Gov. Bill Lee to urge his support for expansion of healthcare coverage to uninsured Tennesseans as coronavirus cases spread.

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“This is a time for us, our colleagues across the aisle to join us, really, the governor to join us today, to say Tennessee cares. Tennessee cares about the health of our citizens. Tennessee cares about a … world-class health system,” said Camper, a Memphis Democrat. “We have got to come together on this issue, and I think the time is right now.”

<strong>Karen Camper</strong>

Karen Camper

Camper renewed Democrats’ call for expanding Medicaid to some 300,000 uninsured and underinsured people who might continue going to work and declining to go to the hospital or the doctor because they don’t have insurance coverage. Republicans have declined to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act, even though two Republicans are sponsoring legislation to widen coverage this year. It has not been heard in committee.

A bill filed Monday, March 9, – after the Legislature’s deadline – authorized the governor to start negotiating immediately with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and President Donald Trump for waivers to provide primary to all uninsured residents in Tennessee “relative to the prevention and treatment of coronavirus.”

Four cases of COVID-19 have been reported across the state, according to the Tennessee Department of Health, including one in Shelby County, one in Nashville and one in Williamson County.

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The legislation would have to come out of a committee for late legislation and go to the House floor for consideration, further complicating the potential for its passage, considering Republicans hold a supermajority and are not enthused about expanding Medicaid. The state already is seeking permission from the federal government to receive $7.9 billion in a block grant for most of the TennCare program.

In addition to pushing the legislation, Democrats accused the state of being unprepared to deal with the virus, which started in China and spread into Europe, to the West Coast and into Tennessee.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville said the Department of Health needs to answer numerous questions ranging from the number of test kits available in the state, the numbers of kits maintained by private healthcare providers, the guidelines for who should be tested, whether an inventory has been done on ventilators to treat the elderly, a plan to care for COVID-19 patients without infecting other patients and staff, an inventory on negative pressure control rooms in cities statewide, long-term facilities, capacity in rural communities including those where hospitals have close and a detailed response to the public.

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Democrats also complained that the state has no coordinated plan with county health departments. They based that on calls to 20 health departments Monday morning in which they received different answers. A call to the Shelby County Health Department was transferred to the state’s 877-857-2945 number, which rang once before giving a busy signal.


coronavirus Coronavirus in Tennessee Karen Camper COVID-19
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter with more than 30 years of journalism experience as a writer, editor and columnist covering the state Legislature and Tennessee politics for The Daily Memphian.


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