“How many more people have to die?”
That was one of the questions asked to state Rep. Judd Matheny on Friday morning during the Chamber of Commerce’s annual Legislative Breakfast.
The question was about Matheny’s opposition to Insure Tennessee, an expanded healthcare plan that failed in the General Assembly last month.
State Sen. Janice Bowling was on the committee that shot down Insure Tennessee and she voted against it. Protesters were waiting outside the TSU Research Center with signs, including one person dressed in a Grim Reaper costume. However, Bowling was a no-show.
Matheny and state Rep. Kevin Dunlap were in attendance and the state’s proposed healthcare expansion plan dominated discussion. Dunlap is for it, while Matheny is against it in its current form.
“I’m very hesitant to support the plan that’s out there,” said Matheny. “For folks who can remember back to 2004, we had a major TennCare issue back then where the state couldn’t do anything because TennCare was consuming such a large part of the budget. If we’re not careful this can be just as catastrophic to our state due to federal uncertainty. I’m very hestitant to join in any new, all-encompassing program with the federal government. The federal government can’t continue to pull trillions of dollars out of thin air. Once you put 250,000 to 300,000 people in a program, you can’t just stop it and opt out at any time without a class-action lawsuit."
In support of Insure Tennessee, Dunlap said he has family members who have been forced to change jobs just to pay for their healthcare.
“Gov. Haslam has crafted a conservative plan to fix a coverage gap that we want to fix,” said Dunlap. “Our job as state representatives is to craft laws that make good public policy to help our citizens. People who can’t afford healthcare don’t have time to wait.”
When asked by a woman in attendance “How many more people have to die?” before lawmakers do something about expanding healthcare, Matheny said he favors making healthcare more available but the state needs to do it in a prudent way.
State Sen. Janice Bowling wasn’t in attendance, it was announced, because she was attending a public hearing in Knoxville on rural Internet service.
The representatives were asked about a school voucher plan making its way through the General Assembly. The pro-posal would provide low-income students stuck in failing schools with money to attend another school of their choice. In its current form, the legislation would only apply to urban areas.
Dunlap said he is firmly against the voucher plan because it would take money away from public schools, which are already scrambling for funding as it is.
“The voucher bill, I’m completely opposed to it,” said Dunlap. “I believe very strongly it’s not helpful to our state. When we take $7,000 or $6,000 or whatever we come up with per student and take it away, it’s going to be hard for our public schools. We have school systems that are underfunded and public education is not what it needs to be. We’re not flushed with cash, and the voucher plan would pull $300 million out of our public schools. That’s bad.”
Matheny talked about the need to create stability in education. He said most teachers he has talked with say the con-stant change of direction is what bothers them the most.
Matheny said he understands pulling money out of public schools could have a detrimental effect, but the program could also benefit students in poor-performing schools.
“It’s a pilot program for vouchers in metropolitan areas for students stuck in consistently failing schools,” said Mathe-ny. “It’s intended to be a small rollout. Anytime you start something it’s hard to reverse it, agreed, but if it’s well man-aged it can have a positive impact.”