The assault by liberal advocacy groups on Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, for his trimming of the state healthcare behemoth known as TennCare has sent out a message to all Red State governors eyeing the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination: You can’t pragmatically address your state’s problems and get away with it.
Bredesen, a business-friendly moderate Democrat, who presides over a state President Bush carried by 14 points in 2004, has been touted as a possible presidential candidate by national media outlets such as the New Republic and the Wall Street Journal. But the same policies that afforded Bredesen appeal to southern conservatives have drawn the ire of liberal special interests.
TennCare, now the nations most comprehensive–and expensive–governmental medical coverage program, began in 1994. A system that was supposed to drive down costs by contracting enrollees’ healthcare coverage out to managed care organizations (MCOs), which would then contract with healthcare providers at the lowest cost, has done just the opposite. Instead, the third-party payer system gave enrollees a virtual blank check toward medical coverage with no limits of any kind on numbers of prescriptions, doctor’s office visits or hospital stays.
The state of TennCare has reached crisis mode. With a whopping 90% of incoming state revenues going toward maintaining the system over the next four years, according to a McKinsey & Co. report, changes clearly had to take place.
After witnessing growing public discontent with the state of TennCare and calls from state Republican leaders, Bredesen took the opportunity to put a Democratic face on TennCare reform. In a high-profile speech in front of both chambers of the state legislature, Bredesen outlined his plan to pare back TennCare through a series of cuts in benefits to maintain coverage for all current recipients.
Liberal advocacy groups pounced at the governor and haven’t let up. Once the reforms began, Gordon Bonnyman of the Tennessee Justice Center filed lawsuit after lawsuit on behalf of enrollees. These legal challenges on the extent of coverage required forced Bredesen to cut people off the rosters in order to maintain the savings.
Other activist groups have taken the theatrical rout to voice objection at the governor’s actions. Nashville Peace and Justice Center organized a vigil outside the governor’s office on Monday demanding for all reforms to halt. In a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Ron Pollack of Families USA, a liberal interest group that pushes for more imposing governmental roles in healthcare, lambasted Bredesen in a question-and-answer session. The group also bussed extreme examples of the TennCare enrollees to reveal their stories for dramatic effect.
This type of stark opposition to reform isn’t limited to the most extreme liberal activists. Just this week, the AARP, a major power base within the Democratic Party, announced it would send a team of lawyers to fight the proposed changes to TennCare.
The inability to recognize reality in favor of chasing a blind ideology makes activist groups like these dangerous, but the real danger lies in the Democratic Party’s allegiance to such groups. If the 2004 Democratic presidential primary taught us that nothing to the right of a bleeding liberal could compete for the nomination, this should tell us nothing will change for 2008.