What the heck is going on in Tennessee?
The Associated Press reported yesterday that several Tennessee state lawmakers were worried that a new floor-level sink in a men’s bathroom at the state capitol was there for Muslims to wash their feet in before prayer.
After talking to the state capitol’s facility administrator, the lawmakers were assured that the sink was in fact for janitors to use to rinse out their mops, and not for Muslims to wash their feet in.
This stunning display of ignorance and intolerance in the Tennessee legislature is just the beginning.
Like a scene straight out of “The Hunger Games,” Tennessee holds “health care lotteries” to ration Medicaid health insurance to the nearly 200,000 uninsured residents of Tennessee who can’t afford health coverage.
Twice a year, Tennessee holds their health care lottery, when Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Haslam and the rest of his Republican colleagues turn the idea of “dialing for dollars” into “dialing for your life”.
Tennesseans who meet various requirements – like falling below a specific income threshold, and being elderly, blind, disabled, or a caretaker of a child who qualifies for Medicaid – can call the lottery line to request an application for the state’s public health insurance program known as TennCare.
But getting the application doesn’t give you coverage – it just lets you play in the state's healthcare lottery.
So if you live in Tennessee and are low income and want to get into this Medicare program, you can all a state phone line and request an application.
The catch is that the window for getting one of those applications is very tight – the phone lines shut down after just 2,500 calls come in – and with hundreds of thousands of people who may qualify, the demand is so high that it’s nearly impossible to get through in time.
Russell Overby, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society in Nashville, speaking about the lottery, told The New York Times that, “we encourage people to use multiple phones and to dial and dial and dial.”
While those remarks sound an awful lot like instructions for winning a radio contest, they’re not.
Instead of calling in to win sports tickets, vacations, or a new car, hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans are frantically calling in to win one of the 2500 slots that will give them the right to survive. The right to life.
The “dial for your life” phone lines opened up last Thursday for the first time in six months, and as usual, the system was flooded with application requests.
Those who were lucky enough to get through now have an application, and, thus, the chance to get the healthcare they need to survive.
But those who got a busy signal or called after the few minutes the system was taking calls are screwed, forced to play a game of “beat the grim reaper,” and hope to be alive six months from now, the next time the lottery window opens up.
And what's particularly outrageous about this is that it doesn’t have to be this way at all.
Tennesseans don’t have to be playing life or death games with their healthcare coverage, and don’t need to be dialing for their lives twice a year.
As The New York Times notes, if Gov. Bill Haslam was to just accept free Medicare money – something Republican governors don't like to do because then their citizens discover that Obamacare has something in it for them, those 180,000 Tennesseans who are forced to compete in the healthcare lottery for 2500 slots would simply be added to the TennCare program.
Haslam has yet to say if he will take Obamacare’s Medicaid money, which the Supreme Court ruled states can turn down.
This is likely because he’s still on board with the “repeal Obamacare at all costs” notion that argues that Obamacare is the worst thing in the history of the world, and that our healthcare system is just fine the way it is now.
Crazed Republicans playing politics with healthcare, combined with a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling, have turned something as vital and basic as healthcare coverage into something being decided in Tennessee by something as insane and twisted as a lottery system.
We fought the Revolutionary War for the rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
It's time for Republicans to stop denying people the right to life just because they can't dial the phone fast enough.
Having access to healthcare shouldn’t be based on how fast you can dial the phone or compete with your neighbors.
If you live in Tennessee – or any other state with a Republican governor – tell him to stop playing politics with healthcare for poor and working class people.