Healthy Tennessee, a Nashville-based 501(c)(3), hosted a healthcare symposium Friday featuring several of the gubernatorial candidates from both parties with moderators Lipscomb President Randy Lowry and Healthy Tennessee Founder President Dr. Manny Sethi. Although the event was slated to have the candidates “share their vision and plans for a healthier Tennessee,” the discussion largely centered around the question of whether and how much should Tennessee’s Medicaid program, TennCare be expanded.
“Our forum is designed to provide a meaningful opportunity for each candidate to speak directly to the voters of Tennessee and provide a unique perspective on potential solutions to the health care problems facing our state today,” said Lipscomb University President Randy Lowry in a statement about the gathering.
In all, six out of the seven candidates vying for their parties’ nominations were on hand, with each individual taking the stage to share their thoughts with the moderators and audience one at a time.
Both Democrat candidates, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, joined Republicans House Speaker Beth Harwell, Franklin-area businessman Bill Lee, Knoxville-area businessman Randy Boyd, and former State Senator Mae Beavers.
The only top-tier candidate not attending was Representative Diane Black, who opted to stay in Washington D.C. amid the looming government shutdown, as well as to celebrate the annual March for Life.
Other than the specific statements reported on by the Associated Press, the positions the candidates took fell predicatably along party lines.
Democrats Dean and Fitzhugh both argued for the expansion of TennCare, citing the recent closures of rural hospitals.
Dean said, “Frankly, I think the vote or non-vote on Medicaid expansion was sort of a high point of partisanship, and sort of ideologue politics. I don’t think that’s what works.”
Fitzhugh agreed during his time on stage, stating, “It is my opinion, shared by many of my colleagues in the legislature, that an expansion of Medicaid would prevent that.”
Self described moderate Randy Boyd did not state his position on the question of expansion and instead, focused on his support for the federal government to give states block grants to fund health care programs.
Boyd said, according the the AP, “There’s so much that’s not in our control. We’re waiting for Washington, D.C., and so it’s probably not that useful to speculate on speculation and wondering what they’re going to do there.”
Beth Harwell seemed to echo Boyd’s comment, stating that until the federal government acts, Tennessee’s “hands are a little behind our back and tied.”
According to the Tennessean:
Mae Beavers said the biggest challenge the state and federal government is facing is the need to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Beavers was the lone candidate to make such a statement, which was later followed by a call for a “top to bottom” review of TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program.
Similarly, Bill Lee unequivocally opposed the program’s expansion, saying, “If the government doesn’t engage in a more meaningful way with our faith-based community, with our nonprofit community, with those that are doing the work on the ground much more effectively than the government can do it, we’re not going to really curb what I see as an unsustainable challenge going forward.”
The AP reported that the Republican candidates dismissed the idea TennCare expansion and focused on areas of personal responsibility, wellness education, private sector innovation, and shared some personal stories as well:
Beavers said she’s particularly excited about holistic treatments because she’s a cancer survivor.
“We can find some other cures for things besides going through all of the toxic chemotherapy and radiation that I had to go through, that weakens your immune system,” Beavers said.