Tennessee state lawmakers are taking steps to block the Affordable Care Act from their state, barring state and local governments from participating in the national healthcare exchange.
The bill, sponsored by State Sen. Mae Beavers and three House Republicans, makes buying exchanges through HealthCare.gov illegal, effectively putting a “firewall” around Tennessee to keep Obamacare out, according to State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver.
"It's quite evident the federal government is wanting a monopoly on insurance coverage in this country," said Beavers, who spearheaded the bill. "They've shown already that they're not capable of doing it."
The Tennessee State Senate has made several past attempts to block the ACA. In its current form, the bill would get around federal law by making it illegal for state and local officials to “assist in implementing” the ACA in the state. It would also prevent affiliated institutions from buying coverage for their employees through HealthCare.gov. It may even be illegal for governmnent contractors to use it.
As for the 36,000 Tennesseans who have already signed up for government subsidized healthcare, Beavers said, "that remains to be seen.”
State Rep. JoAnne Favors, a Democrat who is also a registered HealthCare.gov “navigator” in the state, said the legislation is embarrassing and possibly a violation of the state’s constitution.
"It's wasting a lot of energy and time for the legislators to have to deal with something so egregious," she said. "It's just causing our state to look so silly."
Some Tennessee residents were already struggling to access healthcare through the ACA, falling into the “coverage gap” of 161,000 low- or no-income adults who cannot afford even the lowest plan and don’t qualify for tax credits. Tennessee is one of 25 states that opted not to participate in the expansion of Medicaid, making access to medical care even harder.
“The people who will remain uninsured are the working poor,” said Gordon Bonnyman, former executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center. “Most Tennesseans find it hard to believe the reality that, as a result of the state’s refusal to accept the federal dollars, it is the working poor who remain uninsured, while people with higher incomes will be able to get subsidized insurance. That’s not the fault of the Affordable Care Act, but the result of our state leaders’ decision.”
Over 2 million people have enrolled in Obamacare throughout the U.S., according to the most recent numbers.