Health task force seeks input from conservative advocacy group - WSMV News 4

Health task force seeks input from conservative advocacy group

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As thousands of Tennesseans are struggling to get health insurance, lawmakers are working on a plan to extend coverage to those who need it most.

This comes nearly two years after lawmakers killed Insure Tennessee, a proposal by Gov. Bill Haslam to expand Medicaid.

The conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity launched an aggressive campaign in 2015 to help defeat Insure Tennessee. The measure ultimately failed.

In response, Republican leaders created the Three-Star Healthy Task Force to brainstorm solutions using Republican principles.

Now, emails obtained by the Channel 4 I-Team show the task force is planning on working with the same group that helped defeat Insure Tennessee.

While the organization has a local chapter, the Tennessee-AFP affiliate is tied to a larger national organization backed by the billionaire Koch brothers.

Emails show Chairman Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, reached out to local AFP staff on Oct. 19 to talk about scheduling.

“We look forward to working with you and the committee on innovation healthcare reforms outside of Obamacare,” wrote AFP communications director Tori Venable in a response, noting director Andrew Ogles would be unavailable until after the election. “Thank you again for providing us with the opportunity to help shape free-market healthcare reforms going forward.”

Sexton replied on Oct. 20, stating the task force was looking forward to hearing the group’s thoughts on the patient population living in poverty.

“We are excited about your participation with the task force,” Sexton wrote.

In an interview Tuesday, Sexton explained why he reached out to AFP.

“We’ve been reading their Facebook posts a lot about this population and about how they would like to see a different approach,” Sexton said. “We’d like to reach out to them and see what that approach would look like.”

The lawmaker said AFP will share its ideas at a public meeting in the future.

Americans for Prosperity generally does not disclose its donors. But some claim the group’s connection to the Koch brothers alone points to outside influence.

“Anytime the Koch brothers are having their hands intertwined in the business of the state at this level and working directly with folks outside of our transparency structures, it’s a big problem,” said Chris Moth, who is running for the state House of Representatives in District 56.

Moth is campaigning to unseat longtime incumbent Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, who has faced scrutiny over leadership’s failure to push a vote on Insure Tennessee.

In April, Harwell and Gov. Haslam announced the creation of the task force.

Moth says decisions about health care should lie with the voters and who they elect, not with AFP.

“For those folks to be calling the shots in our health care in Tennessee, I can’t believe it,” Moth said. “I can’t imagine a worse scenario.”

In a statement, the director of AFP’s Tennessee chapter, Andrew Ogles, said he hopes the task force steers clear of Obamacare:

We look forward to hearing more from the committee on their plan and are committed to finding state-based solutions. Our hope is that the Healthy Projects Committee is not doubling-down on the failing Obamacare program which has already cost thousands of Tennesseans access to healthcare and triggered premium increases of 50% and higher. Any true state-based solution will not be dependent on the Affordable Care Act for funding.

Sexton dismissed the idea he was being lobbied, saying there’s no harm in hearing ideas.

“It’s no more than seeing them walking down the street and seeking their opinion,” Sexton said. “You don’t have good policy by just listening to people who agree with you. You have to bring people who disagree.”

The next meeting for the Three-Star Healthy Task force is Thursday at 2 p.m.

Sexton said he expects the task force to submit a proposal to the federal government by early next year.

He pointed out he’s asked for input from groups beyond AFP.

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