Listen to Gov. Bredesen on Health Care Reform

One expert said Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen has had it right all along.

ByABC News
June 24, 2009, 1:09 PM

June 24, 2009— -- Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, probably understands the challenges of maintaining and financing a universal health insurance system better than any Democrat in Congress. So why aren't the Obama administration and the congressional leadership listening to him?

Health care reformers received the first major setback in their reform efforts when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) "scored" (i.e., estimated the financial cost) of Senator Max Baucus's D-Mont., health care reform proposal at $1.6 trillion over 10 years and Senator Edward Kennedy's D-Mass., bill at $1 trillion -- and neither senator had handed CBO the complete legislation.

While most people agree that we need ways to make health insurance more affordable and reduce the number of 46 million uninsured, the public is also concerned that the country can't keep piling on more debt. That's where Mr. Bredesen comes in.

In 1993, the state of Tennessee was able to hastily implement sweeping health care reform legislation by discouraging close evaluation of the proposal and its costs. Sound familiar? Tennesseans have paid a high price for that little-scrutinized legislation.

The public was told at the time that anyone who needed insurance, regardless of health condition, would be accepted. And proponents claimed the state would save so much money by closely managing the care patients received that costs, even for comprehensive coverage, would actually go down. Again, sound familiar?

Yet year after year subsequent governors and the legislature struggled to pay for a program. Mr. Bredesen was recently quoted by the Associated Press as lamenting the program "got totally out of control. It was growing at 15 percent a year. Tennessee had the most expensive Medicaid program in the country... Our experience with trying to do universal coverage ended up being a disaster."

That's because the savings never emerged. By the time Mr. Bredesen took office in 2003 -- only 10 years later -- TennCare was a third of the state budget, forcing regular discussions of how to raise taxes to cover the program. And it never reached the ultimate goal of universal coverage. So the governor decided it was time for a change; he took a lot of political heat for downsizing TennCare by some 170,000 adults in 2005, and reduced benefits for many more.