State of the State 2020

In his 2019 State of the State address, Governor Lee said healthcare was one of his top 3 priorities and that “every Tennessean should have access to high quality healthcare that they can afford.”

Despite Governor Lee’s statements, Tennessee has lost tremendous ground in the last year. We’re sick of being at the bottom of national health rankings and losing any progress that we have made. At the Tennessee Justice Center, we spend our time focused on the lived experiences of Tennesseans of all backgrounds. Our leaders should spend time getting a broader perspective of what matters to them. We hope that Governor Lee’s 2020 vision leads to focused attention and moral clarity on these issues.

We hope to hear from Governor Lee on these 5 topics in his 2020 State of the State address:

  1. Children’s health insurance coverage – At least 220,000 children lost TennCare and CoverKids health coverage from 2016-2018, not because they were ineligible but because of red tape. At the same time, Tennessee had the largest increase in the percentage of uninsured children in the nation. Media attention and community outrage from prominent organizations and families affected led to a brief uptick in enrollment, but there have been steady enrollment declines since September 2019. Governor Lee, our kids can’t wait – please prioritize children’s health insurance coverage, and make sure that the children who lost coverage unjustly are re-enrolled.
  2. Medicaid expansion – Hundreds of studies now show that states that chose to expand Medicaid are doing significantly better than states that refused expansion. Improvements include gains in coverage; improvements in access, financial security, and health status/outcomes; and economic benefits for states and providers. Governor Lee, please keep an open and curious mind when considering policy solutions to our urgent healthcare needs that leave us ranked at the bottom of the nation in issues like rural hospital closures, declining life expectancy, poor birth outcomes, medical debt and bankruptcies, the substance use disorder crisis, and more.
  3. Infant and maternal mortality – Tennessee ranks 41st in maternal mortality and 39th in infant mortality. We applaud the state’s plan to expand postpartum TennCare coverage from 60 days to a year, but we know that moms and babies both do better when moms are healthy before, during and after pregnancy. We hope Governor Lee will consider bringing Tennessee on par with the 47 other states that provide coverage to women before they are pregnant.
  4. Rural communities – Tennessee is #1 in the rate of rural hospital closures in the nation, leaving 21 counties without a hospital. Rising rates of uninsured residents, including children, means that hospitals don’t generate enough revenue to stay open. Once a hospital closes, a town loses one of its largest employers, and the entire economy is impacted. Rural counties struggle with higher unemployment rates, issues with access to transportation and childcare, and low-paying jobs that don’t provide benefits. Governor Lee, please support solutions that address these issues, especially in the 15 counties that your administration deemed economically distressed.
  5. Threats to the safety net – Our poor outcomes come from political decisions and lack of courage to meaningfully address barriers and issues that Tennesseans face day-to-day. Our state’s decision to join a lawsuit that would repeal pre-existing condition protections, the effort to cut Medicaid through a block grant, the hoarding of TANF funds meant for low-income families, and layers of red tape faced by families, people with disabilities and seniors trying to access life-saving services are all barriers to improving outcomes erected by the state. We call on Governor Lee to consider and address problems that affect the ability of Tennesseans to thrive and that continuously relegate us to the bottom of the rankings on many important measures.

Tune in to the State of the State Feb. 3, 2020, at 6pm CST.