It's not getting a lot of press, but disability rights advocates and their allies are in their tenth week of a sit-in at Gov. Phil Bredesen's (D) office in Tennessee.
The spark for their protest -- which some say is the longest sit-in at a governor's office in history -- are the deep cuts in the state's TennCare program, which six weeks ago knocked 100,000 people offthe state's insurance program for the poor, sick and disabled. 90,000 more are scheduled to be forced off the rolls in the coming weeks, and half a million have seen their prescriptions cut back. And help promised by state leaders hasn't materialized:
Nearly six weeks after the state began cutting people from TennCare, there is no medical safety net to catch those who were cut.
State officials have not distributed any of the funds lawmakers set aside to provide expanded access to doctors and nurses.
With months to go before the state puts into place extra help, lawmakers say they're displeased the safety net they agreed to fund in June has not been put into place.
"I'm puzzled," said Rep. Gary Odom, a Democrat from Nashville who sits on the legislature's TennCare Oversight Committee. "What good is a safety net that goes into place weeks after disenrollment has taken place?"
As the stories mount of sick and disabled people devastated by the cuts, there's plenty of blame to spread around. As The Tennessean notes, in a state that recently learned it took in $100 million more than projected revenues, recouped $50 million in federal funds for TennCare, and has more than $300 million in its rainy-day reserves, "There's always been plenty of money to mitigate the suffering of the TennCare cuts. What's been missing is the political will."
Another worthy target are companies like Wal-Mart, who -- thanks to the atrocious wages and benefits they offer employees -- have forced thousands of workers onto TennCare, overwhelming the system at taxpayer expense. A study by the Memphis Commercial Appeal earlier this year found that 25% of Wal-Mart workers in Tennessee had to use TennCare for basic health coverage -- 9,617 employees.
But most of all, the TennCare crisis points to the deeper problem of our nation's tattered health care system. 45 million Americans are uninsured, including 8.4 million children. 75% of uninsured families have at least one person working full-time, and underinsurance causes 40% of working adults to have trouble paying medical bills -- the very people being forced off TennCare.
TennCare was once hailed as a model program, and other states are watching closely what happens in Tennessee. Progressives must seize the initiative to send the right message: in the richest country in the world, we can afford to help the sick and disabled. And companies like Wal-Mart shouldn't be doing business if they can't take care of their employees.
(Thanks to reader LK)