- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:


Dec. 1

The Tennessean on the Insure Tennessee proposal:

Thirty states and the District of Columbia are benefiting from having expanded health care coverage to working poor individuals.

Those states and D.C. are accepting billions of tax dollars that their citizens have paid in order to expand wellness and health services, and to secure medical insurance for people historically prone to avoid preventive care because they could not afford it.

Tennessee, to date, is among the states that have opted to reject any form of expansion even though it has a solid proposal in Insure Tennessee, which seeks to cover 280,000 uninsured Tennesseans who neither qualify for TennCare nor make enough to earn subsidies on the federal health exchange.

As a consequence, the Volunteer State has left $1.4 billion on the table. In 2016 that number is estimated to be $1.77 billion in lost money if inaction on health insurance expansion persists, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. Moreover, approving Insure Tennessee would reduce uncompensated care annually by $190 million, per White House Council of Economic Advisers report figures.

In addition Tennessee has seen five rural hospitals close over the past 18 months and might be at risk of losing $500 million in federal money annually to pay health providers who care for uninsured patients.

That’s unfortunate because even Gov. Bill Haslam, the architect and chief supporter of Insure Tennessee, in partnership with the federal government, still believes it’s a good idea.

Haslam said as much on Nov. 23 in his annual address to the Rotary Club of Nashville, where he acknowledged that politics would likely make passage impossible next year.

Here’s what he said:

“Last year, when somebody said, ‘Will you bring it up next year?’ I said, ‘Well, something will have to change’ because it wasn’t like we just barely lost. Something will have to change in the state or on the national scene for that to happen. To be frank, I haven’t seen anything that’s (given) me that kind of encouragement.

“There’s been a statewide effort to rally the cause, but I haven’t noticed a changing public opinion and definitely haven’t seen a change in our legislature. My sense is there will be a lot of people waiting to see what happens in the ‘16 presidential election - just, again, to be as honest as I can - before they’ll do that. We would still love it to happen. We still think it’s the right thing to do. Nothing I’ve seen since then has changed my mind.”

Haslam is correct to say that it’s the right thing to do. However, something has changed. While there are many things to question about the implementation and execution of the Affordable Care Act and the state and federal health care changes, there is general recognition that increasing the wellness of states’ citizens and lowering health care costs provide great value.

That is why Insure Tennessee makes common sense - it is rational and valuable, and it is worth the governor showing leadership by using his political will and courage to make it happen in 2016.

When it comes to public opinion, it is solidly on Haslam’s side. A Vanderbilt University poll last spring showed that 64 percent of registered voters support the plan that would use federal Medicaid dollars to create two options for people at 138 percent of the federal poverty line, or making $16,000 a year.

The issue is not the people of Tennessee. The issue is clearly with the lawmakers who never gave the proposal a fair shot in either chamber of the General Assembly, either out political expediency, fear or apathy toward the plight of low-income Tennesseans.

A rule created last year required that three committees in both the House and Senate approve a Medicaid expansion solution.

Haslam had worked with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over nearly two years for a plan that would create two options: a defined contribution plan and managed care plan. He consistently tweaked it with HHS to address concerns from legislators.

A special session called in February ended after just three days when one Senate committee rejected it. During the general legislative session, one Senate committee approved it and another rejected it. No House committee ever gave it consideration.

When the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the overall constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in 2012, it rejected the portion that required states to expand Medicaid, which is why hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans are in limbo.

They deserve urgent consideration, regardless of next year’s election, because approving Insure Tennessee is rational, valuable and humane.

President Obama will be out of office in January 2017. State leaders should not wait until then.

Governor Haslam, who spent political capital proposing Insure Tennessee, can and should make this part of his legacy by showing leadership and making Insure Tennessee a priority.




Dec. 1

Knoxville News Sentinel on Tennessee Valley Authority’s solar cuts:

The Tennessee Valley Authority should reconsider its decision to slash its incentives for solar power projects next year. Though many private power producers have begun scaling back incentives for solar power, federally owned TVA has a mission that includes supporting economic development for the region.

In recent years, TVA has rightly included solar as part of its all-inclusive generating portfolio, and its incentives have helped solar grow as a clean energy option needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

TVA’s solar plan for 2016 includes placing a cap on solar incentives at 20 megawatts, a steep decline from 130 megawatts this year. Medium-sized projects would be handed off to local power distributors. Solar advocates, including the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, are concerned that TVA plans to scrap a $1,000 rebate for residential rooftop installation.

Solar energy is becoming a bigger player in Tennessee’s economy. According to Environmental Entrepreneurs, a national environmental business group, 151 Tennessee companies employ 2,200 workers. The state doubled its solar generation last year, with Tennessee’s solar capacity standing at 130 megawatts.

The cost of solar power has plummeted in recent years. The Solar Energy Industries Association reports that the costs for residential projects have dropped by 45 percent since 2010, and industrial-scale arrays have fallen even faster.

TVA Chief Financial Officer John Thomas told the Associated Press recently that solar does not need incentives any longer because it has become cheap enough to compete on the open market. Thomas said TVA is investing $1.6 billion in solar projects over a 20-year period, and the TVA Board of Directors has a goal of adding up to 800 megawatts of solar by 2023.

While solar and other renewables have been subsidized, all corners of the energy market get financial support from taxpayers in the form of loans and loan guarantees, research and development funding, and tax breaks.

According to a U.S. Energy Information Administration report issued earlier this year, in 2013 solar received $5.3 billion in direct federal subsidies, while coal received a little more than $1 billion and natural gas $2.9 billion. All told, the federal government spent $29.4 billion in 2013 on direct subsidies to the energy sector of the economy.

TVA is in a position to continue solar incentives because CEO Bill Johnson and his team have managed the nation’s largest public utility well. Last year TVA generated record net income of $1.1 billion - its highest level ever - on $11 billion in sales. Staff and program cuts trimmed $600 million in operating expenses, and despite spending $3.6 million on capital projects, TVA kept its debt $1.2 billion below budget.

TVA subsidies helped attract $7.8 billion in new business investment that created 76,200 jobs in its service area. By keeping solar incentives at this year’s levels, TVA would help the state meet its long-term emissions reduction goals under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan while continuing to fulfill its economic development mission by supporting a growing Tennessee industry.




Nov. 30

The Jackson Sun on the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle campaign:

The Salvation Army kicked off its 60th Red Kettle campaign in West Tennessee on Nov. 20.

We want to send a huge kudos to all of the people who volunteer their time to ring bells at kettles. Also a big thanks to all those who donate to the organization.

There will be 30 kettles in Madison and surrounding counties, and typically the campaign raises approximately $100,000 for the Salvation Army.

This money goes to fund the Salvation Army’s Christmas programs, such as Angel Tree, which provides toys and clothing to around 500 local children whose parents aren’t able to give them Christmas gifts. Any money left over goes to support year-round programs such as summer camps and the organization’s weekly youth outreach program on Tuesday nights.

We encourage everyone to donate either financially or by volunteering their time.

The Salvation Army is involved in meeting a wide variety of needs for approximately 5,100 people in our area all year long - not just at Christmas. Often the people helped by the Salvation Army are the organization’s most faithful supporters in later years.

Sometimes people need help from the Salvation Army financially when something unplanned on occurs. It could happen to any of us. So, please consider a donation to this worthy cause this holiday season or any time of year.

If you are interested in volunteering to ring bells at kettles, donating money or supplies for Salvation Army holiday events, go to www.salvationarmytennessee.org .



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