Monday, February 2, 2015

The Buzz for Groundhog Day 2015



Cohen Pushes for Student Loan Bankruptcy Protection

Rural hospitals at risk of closing if Insure TN fails

Koch brothers/charter school nightmare: “White kids get to go to a school with a Montessori approach while children of color get eye control”

Insure Tennessee would close gaps for veterans

In Tennessee, there are an estimated 29,000 uninsured veterans between the ages of 18 and 64. Nationwide, the largest portion of uninsured veterans are those who put their lives on the line, serving during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
These veterans are among the 280,000 people in the state who might get coverage by the end of next year if the legislature approves Insure Tennessee, the plan put forth by Gov. Bill Haslam for the state to get back federal Medicaid taxes that Tennesseans are already paying.
Caston, who lives in Lebanon and works for the nonprofit Operation Stand Down Tennessee, finally obtained insurance Jan. 1 when his wife got a new job with better benefits. But he knows what it's like to hope nothing else goes wrong with your health. He had no coverage at all from 2003 to 2010.
"Then I finally got service connected in 2010," Caston said. "Then from 2010 up to January it was basically partial. Before that I had nothing." LINK (Subscription)

Sunday column: Like governors before him, Haslam takes the helm for a hazardous voyage

As his predecessor might say, Gov. Bill Haslam is embarking on a hazardous voyage into legislative waters this week after four years of smooth sailing. Shipwreck is a real possibility.
It’s somewhat curious that former Gov. Phil Bredesen, famous for nautical analogies in his speeches on steering the Tennessee “ship of state” with a legislator crew, faced his greatest controversy in an eight-year reign in trying to slash enrollment in TennCare, the state’s name for Medicaid, over objections from fellow Democrats, then in the majority at the Legislature, and with the support of most minority Republicans.
Now we have Haslam trying to expand Medicaid/TennCare over the objections of many members of his own party – Republicans, who now enjoy Supermajority status — while backed by most of the minority Democrats. (One hears there may be an exception or two there.)
So the past and present governors had different directions. Yet Haslam has praised Bredesen for his actions at the time, given the circumstances he faced, and Bredesen backs expansion today, given the circumstances created by the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.
Bredesen ultimately prevailed in cutting about 170,000 people from TennCare enrollment after considerable controversy in courtrooms as well as in Legislatorland. Haslam’s success in adding about 280,000 — an estimate increased by about 80,000 last week — will be decided in a special legislative session that begins Monday. LINK

Koch brothers/charter school nightmare: “White kids get to go to a school with a Montessori approach while children of color get eye control”

For sure, charter schools have become a darling of conservative politicians, think tanks and advocates.
One of those powerful advocates, nationally and in Tennessee, is the influential Americans for Prosperity, the right-wing issue group started and funded by the billionaire Charles and David Koch brothers.
AFP state chapters have a history of advocating for charter schools, conducting petition campaigns and buying radio ads targeting state lawmakers to enact legislation that would increase the number of charter schools. In an AFP-sponsored policy paper from 2013, “A Nation Still at Risk: The Continuing Crisis of American Education and Its State Solution,” author Casey Given states: “The charter school movement has undoubtedly been the most successful education reform since the publication of A Nation at Risk.,” the Reagan-era document commonly cited as originating a “reform” argument that has dominated education policy discussion for over 30 years.
The Koch brothers themselves have been especially interested in public policy affairs in Tennessee generally and Nashville in particular. “Tennessee is a political test tube for the Koch brothers, ” the editors of The Tennessean news outlet write in a recent editorial. The editors cite as evidence the influence AFP had recently in convincing the Tennessee legislature to block a bus rapid transit system project in Nashville.
In July of last year, the Charles Koch Institute held an event in Nashville, “Education Opportunities: A Path Forward for Students in Tennessee,” to provide an “in-depth policy discussion” about public education and other issues.
As The Tennessean reported, the forum was advertised as “a panel talk with representatives of charter schools and conservative think tanks,” including outspoken and controversial charter school promoter Dr. Steve Perry.
Although the emphasis apparently was mostly on school vouchers, according to a different report in The Tennessean, the stage was thick with charter school advocates from Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation for Education Choice, the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute and Nashville’s Beacon Center of Tennessee.
The reporter quotes Nashville parent T.C. Weber, “who questioned the ‘end game’ of diverting funding from public schools” and said, “‘Are you looking to destroy the public system that we already have and build a new one based on your ideas?’”
Weber writes about the event on his personal blogsite: ”One of the questions asked of the panelists was what do [you] feel is the biggest obstacle … to the accepting of your vision. The reply was, ‘educating parents.’”
The presence of influential conservatives from outside the city “educating” Nashville parents about what kind of schools their children need has created resentment and suspicion in many Nashville citizens’ minds. Many fear the drive to expand charters is powered more by powerful interests outside the city than by the desires of Nashville parents and citizens. LINK

Rural hospitals at risk of closing if Insure TN fails

Insure Tennessee will provide better access to care for our patients. One key element of both the TriStar and Saint Thomas Health systems is that patients who access any of our hospitals can tap into the resources of an entire network. Rural hospitals, for example, are the key link for access to health care for many Tennesseans. For much of the population, this is the only point of access to care.
Both TriStar and Saint Thomas Health have facilities in rural communities and major hospitals in downtown Nashville. Saint Thomas Health includes nine hospitals across the state, including facilities in Smithville and Centerville. TriStar includes 15 facilities in communities including Hendersonville, Spring Hill and Ashland City.
Our rural hospitals help Tennesseans access care close to home, which is where most patients prefer to seek treatment. These hospitals provide primary care for patients, preventing more expensive, urgent services down the line. But they are facing headwinds because of the millions of dollars of uncompensated care they provide each year.
We have an opportunity to help our hospitals through Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan, which takes into account the specific needs of our state. The Insure Tennessee plan would enhance coverage and add elements of patient accountability and provider quality incentives that are already part of the evolving health care landscape. LINK

Cohen Pushes for Student Loan Bankruptcy Protection

U.S. Rep.
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Steve Cohen sponsored legislation in the Tennessee Senate that led to creation of the HOPE Scholarship, which provides four-year college students with $4,000 a year for their studies. Yet, it isn’t coming close to covering the cost of a university degree, especially with tuition and fees nearly doubling over the last decade as state funding for higher education has stagnated.
Consequently, more than half of Tennessee students are graduating with some $25,000 in student loans, putting a burden on their finances before they can become entrenched in a career, if they’re fortunate enough to find one in their field of study.
Many students find themselves unable to pay their debt, even though they can receive a deferment until they land a good job, and that often leads to default and potential bankruptcy.
In May 2014, Cohen, a Memphis Democrat, joined several U.S. senators and representatives in urging Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to “bring more fairness to struggling students by establishing clear standards of eligibility for ‘undue hardship’ discharge of federal student loans in bankruptcy.”
The idea is to create more consistency in how Department of Education contractors handle claims for undue hardships, allowing the federal government to focus efforts on cases in which it is more likely to recover loans. LINK

Columnist bashes ‘pass the bottle’ bill

State Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, is bringing another bill this session to outlaw open containers in vehicles… one of those “feel good” bills that make people think they are doing something about drinking drivers. It no doubt appeals to people who have no idea how the real world works.
Instead of attacking the problem, too often legislation just harasses law-abiding citizens. Lundberg’s bill exempts people riding in limos. Well, that’s precious. Somehow riding in a limo is different from people riding in an SUV. What if the SUV driver wears a cap and uniform?
But some politicians are afraid to stand up for the average social drinker and be accused of being soft on drunk drivers. And members of the public are reluctant to call them on it. Yet we won’t spend the money to set up comprehensive programs to deal with chronic violators. LINK

MTSU Poll: Two-thirds know little of Insure Tennessee

Two-thirds of Tennesseans haven’t heard much about Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Insure Tennessee” health care proposal, but among the third who have, support substantially outweighs opposition, according to a release about the latest MTSU Poll.
The poll randomly surveyed 600 adult residents statewide a week before a special legislative session kicks off Monday to consider the measure. The survey’s margin of error is 4 percentage points.
“Gov. Haslam has gotten a notable head start in promoting the measure among Tennesseans,” Ken Blake, director of the poll at Middle Tennessee State University, said in the release. “But his opponents have a lot of maneuvering room left among the two in three Tennesseans who are still largely unaware of the measure.”
Conducted Jan. 25-27, the poll first asked Tennesseans how much they had heard about “a proposal from Gov. Bill Haslam called ‘Insure Tennessee,’ which is designed to provide health insurance for Tennesseans who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford coverage on their own,” the release said. A follow-up question asked how they felt “right now about the governor’s ‘Insure Tennessee’ proposal.” LINK

State Supreme Court rules against firearms maker Barrett

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently sided with a neighbor of Murfreesboro-based firearm maker Ronnie Barrett, reopening a decade-long dispute over an access road.
In the opinion issued Jan. 23, the high court found the Tennessee Court of Appeals erred and reversed its opinion that Brenda Benz-Elliott's breach of contract complaint against Ronnie Barrett was barred by a statute of limitations.
"Because the plaintiff's claim is not barred by the statute of limitations, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand this matter to the intermediate appellate court for resolution of the other issues the defendants raised on appeal," Justice Cornelia Clark wrote for the majority.
The Supreme Court also awarded court costs and legal fees to Benz-Elliot. The remaining $650,000 award is subject to the appeals court reviewing the appeal.
Over the course of several years, the legal dispute over the access drive to Barrett's expanded Buchanan factory made its way from Rutherford County courts to the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Nashville and finally to the highest court in the state. LINK

Crockett Policy Institute

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