The Counting the Cost Tour sponsored by the Tennessee Justice Center’s stop in Gallatin on Monday, July 13 at the First Methodist Church was well attended.

The tour is to educate Tennesseans regarding why 280,000 Tennesseans do not have affordable health care, and to call people to action to work toward getting Governor Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan passed in the Tennessee General Assembly.

During the last general assembly, his plan to help working Tennesseans gain access to health insurance failed in the legislative session. According to information provided by the TJC, when this plan failed, 280,000 Tennesseans were left without access to health care. In addition, the state is losing out on over $1 billion in federal tax dollars returning to Tennessee.

Those Tennesseans without health care are those working at jobs paying minimum wages that are not eligible for insurance subsidies from Obamacare and are not eligible for TennCare. Obamacare is available to single people who make over $11,000 a year or $24,000 a year for a family of four.

TJC spokesperson Margaret Ecker stated that many rural hospitals are at risk. Hospitals are exceeding their ability to pay for uncompensated care, and are being forced to close.

Ecker mentioned the recent closing of the hospital in Brownsville and the closing of the Portland hospital several years ago. She added that more and more hospitals in Tennessee are operating in the red because they are exceeding their ability to pay for uncompensated care.

Ecker stated that Kentucky took the Medicare expansion dollars and they don’t have hospitals closing. In addition to there being no healthcare gap in Kentucky, there has been an increase in health care jobs by 15,000.

The Rev. Dr. Ted Hill of Salvus Center spoke regarding the need of uninsured Tennesseans. The center is a healthcare clinic that provides for Sumner County residents who do not have medical insurance.

He told several stories of people who had lost their jobs along with their health insurance coverage, who were unable to afford insurance. He told the story of a gifted musical composer who began having health issues. When he went to the doctor, he was told he was very sick and needed additional tests. The doctor told him to return when he had insurance. The man continued to lose weight and became sicker. Finally, he was referred to the Salvus Center and was able to obtain some medical care; but unfortunately, because of the delay caused by lack of health care insurance, he passed away three months later.

Hill told a story of a young mother who lost a 2 year-old child because of lack of health care.

“That’s not suppose to happen in the United States,” he said. “We are talking about access. There’s a group of people who live next to you, or they bag your groceries, or they are the people who serve you coffee in the morning at Mapco when you stop to fill up your tank, or who serve you at a restaurant. Almost everyone of those people do not have health insurance because of the kind of work they do. Those are our neighbors. Those are the people who fall through the cracks… People who are in need, need our benevolence and our care. It is a spiritual issue.

“Sometimes there is truth to be said. Sometimes that truth is inconvenient. Truth must speak to power,” Hill added. “It has been said that the true worth of any society is how they treat the poorest and the most vulnerable in their society.”

He ended with a call to action, “We have some folks who need our help. What kind of society are we?”

Lebanon resident Diane Donahue represented those 280,000 Tennesseans who fall in the gap. Donahue works for a non-profit organization making less than $11,000 a year. Last year she had to seek medical care in a hospital emergency room and is faced with a large bill to pay.

Seven people from the Portland community attended the meeting.

Portland area resident Alice Amonette said, “I was pleasantly surprised that there was such a good turnout regarding this important issue. It seems to be a ‘no brainer’ that the legislature should vote for Insure Tennessee and allow working persons to be able to obtain insurance and feed their families. It is good to see the faith community come together and support this issue.”

For more information and to see what can be done to help get Insure Tennessee passed, go to the TJC’s web page at www.tnjustice.org.

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