NASHVILLE – Senator Richard Briggs’ (R-Knoxville) medical and legislative expertise was tapped by a film crew from Japan working in the U.S. last week on a documentary on America’s health issues. The NHK Japan Broadcasting Corporation crew was especially interested in the respected heart and lung surgeon’s viewpoints on rural health care and the challenges of expanding access to poor and working-class citizens in the Volunteer State.
Senator Briggs is a member of the 3-Star Healthy Project Task Force which is working toward improving access to health care coverage for uninsured Tennesseans. He also supported Governor Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan proposed last year to expand the number of Tennesseans eligible for healthcare benefits. The plan, considered in a Special Session of the General Assembly, failed to receive the votes to move forward.
“As a physician, I see patients every day that need care and cannot afford it,” said Senator Briggs. “I carry that experience and concern with me as we discuss healthcare access in the legislature. I am also a conservative who sees great benefit in ensuring that Tennesseans get their fair share of funds already withheld by the federal government.”
The Insure Tennessee Plan would have leveraged the enhanced federal funding, which would have covered between 90 and 100 percent of the cost to bring federal tax dollars Tennesseans have already paid back to the state. The plan would have provided health insurance coverage to uninsured Tennesseans, ages 19-64, who earn less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
Briggs told the film crew access to care is not only a medical issue, but also affects Tennessee’s financial health. Expanding care as proposed by Governor Haslam would have put $6 billion dollars back into the state’s economy over the next five years.
“We are talking about a tremendous economic impact in this state, particularly for our rural communities,” added Briggs. “The $6 billion exceeds by hundredfold the $60 million in road funding just saved through the Special Session that adjourned last week.”
“Nine rural hospitals in Tennessee have closed their doors or drastically reduced services over the past few years, with the vast majority being in some of our state’s most economically distressed counties,” he continued. “And, 12 to 15 more closures are expected over the next several years. This not only has a dramatic effect on the health outcomes of the citizens in these communities, it also affects them economically. When a health care facility closes, a community loses some of its best paying jobs. It also becomes almost impossible to recruit new businesses or industry to these rural countries which typically suffer some of Tennessee’s highest unemployment rates.”
Health organizations have consistently ranked Tennessee among the least healthy states in the nation.