- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

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April 17

The Knoxville News Sentinel on Insure Tennessee:

House Speaker Beth Harwell announced on Wednesday, April 13 the formation of a task force to study expanding health insurance coverage to more low-income Tennesseans. Though the proposal has some puzzling dimensions, it represents a welcome step toward providing more people in our state access to health care.

Tennessee is one of 19 states that have opted not to expand their Medicaid programs as allowed under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Last year, after 18 months of planning in consultation with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Gov. Bill Haslam pushed Insure Tennessee as an alternative to simply expanding TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program. The bill died in Senate committees, leaving an estimated 280,000 low-income Tennesseans without access to insurance coverage and placing rural hospitals at financial risk.

Conceived as a two-year pilot program, Insure Tennessee consists of two plans. One would provide financial assistance to people with access to employer-provided insurance but who cannot afford coverage. The other would feature a combination of TennCare benefits and health care accounts containing credits that could be applied to copays and premiums. Participants could earn additional credits for healthy life choices such as quitting smoking.

Importantly, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has already given provisional approval of the plan and the Tennessee Hospital Association pledged to cover any costs not borne by the federal government. The state could opt out if the federal government or the hospital association back out of their commitments.

With Haslam at her side, Harwell said on April13 her “3-Star Healthy Project” task force would apply “conservative Tennessee principles” to come up with a plan to take to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in June. She envisions the plan would largely consist of experimental pilot programs, with limited enrollment and features like health savings accounts, premiums and incentives for healthy behaviors by enrollees and “circuit breakers” that would halt the programs if costs exceed projections.

In other words, it would be a remixed and hopefully politically palatable version of Insure Tennessee.

The task force members either opposed Insure Tennessee or hold key House committee positions. They are Cameron Sexton of Crossville, the task force chairman, who chairs the House Health Committee; Steve McManus of Memphis, who chairs the Insurance and Banking Committee; Roger Kane of Knoxville, who is in the insurance industry; and Matthew Hill of Jonesborough. All are Republicans. There are no senators on the task force.

Coming just after the qualifying deadline for the August primary, the timing of the announcement seemed based on election-year politics. All the task force members are unopposed in the primary and now are safe from challengers who could count on an avalanche of negative advertising from ultra-conservative groups opposed to any type of Medicaid expansion.

Democrats, who by and large supported Insure Tennessee, were unimpressed with Harwell’s effort. “What a sad political joke. What a political charade,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville.

Harwell’s proposal could be seen as an indication GOP lawmakers are looking for a politically acceptable way to overcome their aversion to anything connected to the Affordable Care Act. Polls show a solid bipartisan majority of Tennesseans support Insure Tennessee.

The task force is charged with achieving in two months what the Haslam administration spent a year and a half doing - arriving at a plan the federal government would approve that would not cost the state a single additional penny. Task force members would be wise use the governor’s sound, fiscally and socially responsible plan as the centerpiece of their effort.

Online: https://www.knoxnews.com/

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April 17

The Johnson City Press on drowsy driving:

Law enforcement officials routinely advise drivers of things they should and shouldn’t do when they take to the highways. Following the speed limit is something drivers should be doing. Wearing a seat belt is another thing they should always be doing.

Motorists shouldn’t drink and drive. Nor should they text when they are behind the wheel. That, like talking on a phone, is considered distracted driving.

Now, officials with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are focusing on a growing safety threat on this nation’s highways - drowsy driving. The NHTSA estimates at least 100,000 crashes reported to police annually are caused by a sleepy driver.

Officials from the NHTSA say teenagers and young adults are the most likely to suffer from drowsy driving, as are shift workers and those who have a sleeping disorder. Drowsy driving is most likely to occur between midnight and 6 a.m., and is made particularly dangerous if the motorist has consumed alcohol.

If you begin feeling drowsy behind the wheel, experts advise you consume some caffeine (the equivalent of two cups of coffee should do) and find to safe spot to take at least a 20-minute nap before heading to a motel, friend’s house or home for a decent night’s sleep.

Online: https://www.johnsoncitypress.com/

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April 18

The Leaf-Chronicle on Gov. Haslam’s decision to veto the Bible bill:

Vetoing the so-called Bible bill took courage for Gov. Bill Haslam, but there’s no question he made the right decision.

Haslam was consistent in his disapproval of the measure throughout its course through the state legislature both last year and this year. It will again come up again this week when Sen. Steve Southerland tries to get the simple majority to override the veto.

It’s a waste of time and taxpayer dollars to be going through this year in and year out. There are literally dozens of other more important issues that the legislature needs to be focusing on more than some trivial grandstanding measure to get one over on someone else.

And that’s really all it is.

The weight and power of the Bible bill is in the message. It’s the first step toward theocracy, and marginalizes anyone who doesn’t value the words of the Bible as highly as Christians do. You know, people like Jews, and Buddhists and Muslims (gasp!).

There is clear language in the U.S. Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution that clearly states neither governmental authority should respect one religion over another.

Even though it might be technically a trivial matter, making the Bible the state’s official book is exactly that. Not to mention it will make Tennessee a target for mockery and insult.

Elected leaders use their faith to guide them, but they should not forcefully establish their faith over anyone else’s.

Just as there are dozens of more important issues for the legislature to discuss, there are dozens more books that would make better official state books. (How about “All the King’s Men,” for example? It won a Pulitzer and Robert Penn Warren graduated from Clarksville High School.)

We hope that the Senate chooses to not override Haslam’s wishes, especially Sen. Mark Green, who Clarksville chose to make these decisions on its behalf.

Online: https://www.theleafchronicle.com/

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