The assault by liberal advocacy groups on Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, for his trimming of the state health care behemoth known as TennCare has sent 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 Wall Street Journal. But the same policies that gave Bredesen appeal in the South have drawn the ire of liberal special interests.
TennCare, now the nation’s most comprehensive—and expensive—governmental medical coverage program, began in 1994. A system that was supposed to drive down costs by contracting enrollees’ health care coverage to managed care organizations (MCOs) 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.
TennCare is now in crisis. 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.
Bredesen took the opportunity to put a Democratic face on TennCare reform. In a high-profile speech to the state Legislature, he 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 on 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 TennCare’s required coverage forced Bredesen to cut people off the program’s roster to maintain the savings.
Other liberal activist groups have taken a more theatrical rout. The Nashville Peace and Justice Center organized a vigil outside the governor’s office demanding a halt to all reforms. At a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Bredesen was lambasted in the question-and-answer session by Ron Pollack of Families USA, a liberal interest group. The group also bussed in extreme examples of TennCare enrollees to tell their stories.
Last 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.
Their inability to recognize reality while chasing a blind ideology makes activist groups like these dangerous. But the real danger to the country 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.