But the most important point is the plan is affordable for individuals, employers and the state. The program only cost the state $11 million last year -- less than a rounding error in the trillion-dollar-plus cost estimates Congress is considering.
The better approach for Congress -- and one that would likely draw wide bipartisan support -- would be to follow the Bredesen model.
First, there is general bipartisan agreement that low-income uninsured workers need a subsidy -- along with tax fairness, but that may be too big a step for this Congress -- to help them afford coverage.
And if employers want to chip in for a portion of the premium, let them. It would likely be much less costly than the Democratic-backed "employer mandate" that forces employers to provide health insurance or pay a penalty.
Second, Congress shouldn't put limits on what people can buy with that subsidy. If people want to use their money for more-comprehensive coverage, they should be allowed -- but not forced -- to do so.
Third, Congress shouldn't pick winners and losers. Let any and all health insurers compete for the uninsured.
Finally, there's little need to be concerned about insurer "cherry picking" (i.e., when insurers selling to individuals refuse to issue a policy to a sick person). Since the maximum payout is low, so is the financial risk.
In a time of exploding federal budgets, Congress should listen to Governor Bredesen. Start small … and affordable. Don't saddle the country with a federal version of TennCare.
Merrill Matthews is executive director of the Council for Affordable Health Insurance and a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation.