Three of Carter County’s representatives in the Tennessee General Assembly paid a visit earlier this week to an Elizabethton nursing home to discuss the impact of the federal government’s healthcare reform bill. Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, State Senator Rusty Crowe and State Representative Kent Williams spent part of Tuesday morning at Ivy Hall Nursing Home to express their opinion on how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will affect Tennesseans.
The three legislators expressed their concerns Tuesday about the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold one of the major accomplishments of President Obama’s first term in the White House. One of the major factors behind their opposition to the government’s healthcare reform act is due to the fact that expanded government involvement in the healthcare industry will reduce competition and increase the cost of medical services. Ramsey argued that any reform movement must foster competition, which he believes will lead to a cost reduction.
Despite the many problems and issues within the healthcare industry, Crowe commented Tuesday morning that Americans still have the best access to medical care in the world. “No one is turned away. If you are sick, you can go to an emergency room or find a physician or free clinic. Healthcare is accessible to everyone in this country,” he noted.
Under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act of 1986, federal law prohibits hospitals and medical centers from denying healthcare to an individual, regardless of their ability to pay. The quarter-century old legislation covers American citizens, legal or illegal aliens and the indigent from being turned away due to lack of insurance or the financial ability to cover the cost of the care they receive. Hospitals and medical centers receiving payments from the Department of Health and Human Services, Medicare and Medicaid programs are required to abide by the law.
Crowe, who serves as Chairman of the Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee, also stated that persons from across the globe travel to the United States to obtain medical care for an illness or injury. He commented that many Canadians and English, who live in countries with government-operated healthcare, come to America to receive treatment. “The quality and access to physicians is there. The problem is affordability and cost of healthcare,” Crowe said.
Crowe, Ramsey and Williams believe that the current legislation will lead to the development of a one-payer system in the United States, similar to what many countries in the rest of the world already have.
Despite his anxieties about PPACA, Williams said he does not believe it will easy for politicians to repeal the federal regulations mandating Americans to purchase healthcare insurance or face the possibility of paying a penalty in the form of a tax. The former Tennessee House Speaker said he has seen recent numbers showing nearly 5,700 Carter County residents who currently do not have any form of medical insurance will be eligible to receive TennCare coverage. “If this is implemented in 2014 and those 5,700 people go on TennCare, it’s going to be hard for a politician to say we have to repeal this. That’s why I don’t think Congress will ever repeal it. Most politicians go with the flow,” Williams said.
Williams also said he is concerned that the expanded number of insured individuals could overwhelm the healthcare industry and reduce access to medical services in the United States. He noted that Tennessee experienced a similar issue in the 1990’s when the TennCare program was fully implemented. Before reforms were put in place in the early 2000’s, TennCare costs accounted for nearly half of the state’s fiscal budget.
Even with the federal healthcare mandates, Ramsey said many Tennesseans and others across the country will still be left without any type of medical insurance coverage when the Affordable Care Act takes effect in two years. “The problem with the Affordable Care Act is that it doesn’t address the real problems. Number one is to make sure everyone is covered. Under this plan, not everybody is covered. About 15 percent of Americans still won’t have access to health insurance,” Ramsey stated.
Beyond the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the president’s Affordable Healthcare Act, Ramsey said he believes the ruling has set a historic precedent on the federal government’s ability to dictate personal behavior. “We could never pass a law to force someone to eat broccoli,” Ramsey explained. “Apparently after this, however, we could pass a law to tax someone if they don’t. That was the basis of the Supreme Court decision. (The government) can’t force you to do anything, but they can tax you if you refuse.”
While all three legislators believe healthcare reform is needed, they disagree with the direction taken by the Affordable Care Act. Crowe commented, “We need to get back to good old Carter County common sense. If you take what’s wrong with healthcare today, part of it is dealing with tort reform. Doctors need to have less concern dealing with liability and lawsuits. If you look at what’s wrong with healthcare, much of it has to do with the amount of regulations that providers have to deal with.”
Ramsey, Crowe and Williams were invited to visit Ivy Hall by Judy and Victor Deloach, the owners and operators of the facility. Mrs. Deloach’s mother purchased the facility in the late 1950’s and converted the former hospital into a nursing facility. Ivy Hall currently houses over 100 residents and employs a staff of 150.