Democrats: Learn from Tennessee's Distastrous TennCare

Tennessee Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Phil Roe have a piece at RealClearPolitics that is a must read for anyone who is on the fence or not quite sure what to believe about all they are hearing about the president’s health care reform plans. His ideas sound too good to be true: he says his plan will save money while reducing costs and expanding coverage to consumers. When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is:

The genesis of TennCare has many parallels to the situation in which we find ourselves today. It was a public option plan designed to save money and expand coverage. In the early 1990s, Tennessee was facing rising costs in its Medicaid program. TennCare was designed to replace Mediaid with managed care and use the promised savings to expand coverage. By 1998, TennCare swelled to cover 1.2 million people. Private business dropped coverage for employees and forced them onto state rolls. By 2002 enrollment had swelled to 1.4 million people and forced Tennessee’s Governor to raise taxes and ultimately propose an entirely new state income tax to cover the unforeseen costs. Governor Bredesen was ultimately forced to dramatically restructure a program he has since called “a disaster”. By 2006 Bredesen had disenrolled nearly 200,000 people and slashed benefits.

TennCare lessons challenge the Administration’s thinking on the benefits of a “public option” solution to assuring American’s have the care they deserve. As a Tennessee doctor who provided care under TennCare and a state legislator who had to find ways for the state to pay for it, we learned these lessons the hard way. They shaped the way we both approach health care policy. With Democrats promising to pass a similar system in the House by August, those lessons are worth sharing with the country now.

Read the entire piece because Blackburn and Roe outline all the failures of Tennessee’s experiment with universal coverage point by point, and these failures were not particular only to Tennessee. These failures are universal to universal health care coverage because government never takes into account human behavior. Private businesses in Tennessee dumped their employer health care plans, which forced more people onto the public option. When people think something is “free” they will use it all up until there is nothing left. As a result, the enrollments swelled to the point that the entire system collapsed and had to be dramatically cut back, leaving no other option but to ration care, reduce the quality of and access to care, and discourage innovation.

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