- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2005

The Democratic governor of Tennessee, who is making painful cuts to his state’s Medicaid program, said yesterday he wishes his party would move to the middle of the road when it comes to making some fundamental, common-sense changes to Medicaid.

“I would like my party to come back to the center on these issues,” Gov. Phil Bredesen told reporters yesterday after giving a speech on Medicaid at the National Press Club in Washington.

Mr. Bredesen — who has been mentioned as a possible presidential contender — said he gave the national Democratic radio address a few weeks ago and talked about his ideas for changing Medicaid, only to hear that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, called the Democratic Governor’s Association to complain about his speech.

Mr. Reid’s spokesman, Jim Manley, acknowledged that his boss did complain, but said it was justified.

“[Gov. Bredesen] was essentially calling for the dismantling of the Medicaid system, so it wasn’t very well received by Democrats on Capitol Hill,” Mr. Manley said.

But Mr. Bredesen said yesterday that average people he talks to, both Democrat and Republican, agree with some of his suggested changes. “Maybe the national party is a little out of touch,” he said. “This is not radical stuff.”

He laid out some suggestions again yesterday, including requiring each person who receives state health care to pay for some of it, cutting wasteful spending on things such as common cold medication and other non-vital requests and only paying for what works, especially when it comes to “new” pharmaceutical drugs that use the same ingredients as old ones.

“The goal is not to retreat from health care, but to advance what it offers to every American,” he said.

Mr. Bredesen said he and other governors are being forced to cut state health care programs that have ballooned to the point that they threaten other critical state needs. After cutting thousands from the rolls and tightening eligibility, his state’s TennCare system will go from the nation’s No. 1 most comprehensive state health care program to the seventh.

But Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said Mr. Bredesen went way too far and is putting people’s lives at risk, with 323,000 people likely to be cut from the TennCare program and 396,000 losing some benefits.

“No governor is cutting the program anywhere close to what this governor is doing,” he said. His group brought to yesterday’s press club event a few gravely ill Tennessee women who are in danger of being cut from TennCare because of Mr. Bredesen’s cuts.

“I will die,” said Shirley Ellis of Columbia, who has been on TennCare for seven years, has bipolar disorder and cancer and recently received state papers indicating she likely will lose her coverage.

Mr. Bredesen said there are private programs to cover mental illness and that TennCare will continue covering cancer treatment. He told her and another woman in a similar situation to leave their contact information so someone from his office could help them further.

But Mr. Pollack said that is bunk. “There is nothing that is going to protect these people,” he said.

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