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Lawmaker: COVID-19 crisis proves need for new health plan

GA Hardaway Mask.jpg
Posted at 5:04 PM, Mar 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-18 20:27:45-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A prominent Democratic lawmaker says Gov. Bill Lee and his team are ignoring a critical tool for dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.

He warns that , because Lee isn’t talking about some sort of expansion of Medicaid services, Tennessee taxpayers could get stuck with a bill they've already paid.

“Essentially, we've already paid for Medicaid expansion, but we're not using it,” said state Rep. John Ray Clemmons of Nashville.

“Now we've got to pay again for uninsured individuals for a primary care safety net. That's essentially being double-billed.”

The state of Florida just received a waiver allowing it to expand Medicaid services in response to the national emergency.

Clemmons’ comments come as Tennessee lawmakers are rushing to wrap up essential business with the COVID-19 crisis looming.

In committee, they are practicing social distancing.

On the House floor, Rep. G.A. Hardaway of Memphis was taking no chances, donning a mask while using several disinfectants.

GA Hardaway Mask.jpg
Rep. G.A. Hardaway on House floor

The rush to end session comes a week after Clemmons was widely mocked when he suggested adjournment.

"Generally, in the hallways and in conversations with my colleagues, I was pretty much vilified and [it was] called a ‘Democrat conspiracy’ and media hoax and met with those types of accusations, which was truly unfortunate,” Clemmons said.

Now, with Lee taking the lead on the state's response, Clemmons is again warning that more is needed.

"We should use any and all tools that we have accessible to us,” the Nashville lawmaker said.

“Ignoring any of those options or not utilizing any of those options in the face of a pandemic is governmental malpractice."

Lee has indicated that the state would provide care to the uninsured through clinics that are part of the Tennessee Health Care Safety Net.

"These types of clinics are few and far between especially in rural Tennessee -- and a lot of patients may not know where it is, may not know what qualifies to be covered as a provider under the health care safety net,” Clemmons insisted.

Because the state hasn't taken advantage of Medicaid expansion, he said tax dollars paid by Tennesseans are going to treat people in other states.

Clemmons says his other concern is that the health care safety net is run by the Department of Health, which already has a full plate handling this crisis.

Medicaid expansion of some sort would be handled by TennCare, which has lots of experience in this area.


See all our coronavirus coverage here


What is COVID-19 (a.k.a. the new coronavirus?)

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. Examples include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV)and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. COVID-19 stands for "Coronavirus disease 2019," which is when this strain of the coronavirus was discovered.

What are the symptoms?

The CDC says patients confirmed to have the 2019-nCoV reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Or at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

At this time, the CDC believes symptoms could appear as soon as two days after exposure, or as long as 14 days.


The CDC is recommending "common sense" measures such as:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.