The Tennessee Senate adopted Tea Party-backed legislation Wednesday to join a so-called health care compact to turn Medicare into a state-run program.
The proposal is merely a gesture of protest against Washington at this point. As yet, there is no compact with the states to join, and Congress is unlikely ever to vote to surrender billions of dollars in federal health care money to the states with no strings attached.
But the debate gave Democratic state senators the opportunity to denounce Republican attempts to cap the cost of Medicare.
Referring to Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s federal budget plan, which would turn Medicare into a voucher program with no provision for rising health care costs, Sen. Roy Herron said Republicans would curtail health care for seniors.
“It has been proposed in Washington, it has been voted in Washington by one House, to end Medicare as we know it, to send the responsibilities back to the states,” said Herron, D-Dresden. “But if any of us in this room think that they’ll send with those responsibilities enough money to fund it so that our seniors continue to have the health care that they currently have, ladies and gentlemen, we ought to think again.”
Senate Judiciary Committee chair Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, defended her bill as a way to relieve Tennessee of the burden of federal regulations. The health-care compact, as it is conceived, also would run Medicaid, the health care program for the poor and disabled.
The Senate voted 22-9 for the bill, with Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, joining Republicans in support.
“This bill, if we pass it, would simply give us an option, an option of being a member of the compact and making a decision, if Congress should approve it, to draw down health care money from Washington and manage our own health care money instead of having all of those burdensome Washington regulations put on the health care money,” Beavers said. “Very simply, that’s what it does. We could come back and we could set up a framework and we could manage Medicare funds. This piece of legislation doesn’t do any of that. It only gives us a choice, if Congress approves this, of coming back and deciding what we want to do with our health care money.”
The bill’s fate in the House is uncertain. Asked this month whether Tennessee's Republicans are capable of running Medicare, House GOP leader Gerald McCormick confessed he sees the bill as a little strange.
"I don't think that's a real issue," he said. "The federal government's not going to turn Medicare over to the states."