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Here's What Tennessee Voters Mean When Polls Show They're Concerned About Health Care

Various polls find that health care is top of mind for many voters, more so for Democrats than Republicans.
Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County
Various polls find that health care is top of mind for many voters, more so for Democrats than Republicans.

Hear the radio version of this story.

This year more than most, polls show voters are concerned about health care. And in Tennessee, the state's Medicaid program — known as TennCare — is often a deciding factor.

There are the perennial concerns from retirees about Medicare.

"We're having to use it a lot. We're not in the best of health," says Patricia Barrett of Grundy County. 

She and her husband have seen scary ads predicting slashed benefits if Democrats open up Medicare to everyone in their pursuit of universal coverage.

But TennCare is a more uniquely personal issue for Barrett, which kept her from pulling the lever for former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen.

"Well, Bredesen threw everybody off TennCare. And I was one of them," she says.

When Bredesen came into office in 2003, TennCare was threatening the financial health of the entire state. So Bredesen, a Democrat, cut hundreds of thousands of people off the rolls, including Barrett, who had breast cancer.

The heated protests at the time still reverberate in Tennessee's current Senate race. Republican Congressman Marsha Blackburn has attacked Bredesen over the issue, though the Bredesen campaign has hit back with ads using archival clips when Blackburn praised Bredesen's handling of TennCare.

But Democrats are talking about expanding TennCare again. And that's why Ann Nunley voted for former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean to be governor. She's a librarian in the town of Altamont and one of thousands of Tennesseans stuck in a coverage gap because the state hasn't accepted federal money to expand TennCare. They're working but don't qualify for subsidies on the individual marketplace.

"I needed $1,200 more dollars to get it. I didn't make enough," she says of her $8,500 annual salary. "And in order to get the TennCare, I made $1.49 too much. I couldn't get it. So we have no insurance."

That's resulted in turning away an ambulance ride in the midst of a possible stroke and impossible choices each month.

"I can't afford to pay the light bill and get my blood pressure medicine. I can't do it," Nunley says. "So I just don't get my medicine that month."

High drug prices are also a concern for some Tennessee voters, along with the government's response to the opioid crisis.  

"Pre-existing conditions might be knocked off by Senator Mitch McConnell and his policies," Williamson County voter Eric Wilson says. "That's why I want to send Phil Bredesen to the Senate so that we can stop that."

While polls find health care is a top issue for all voters, Democrats are even more motivated on the issue, according to the latest tracking resultsfrom the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Copyright 2018 WPLN News

Blake Farmer
Blake Farmer is WPLN's assistant news director, but he wears many hats - reporter, editor and host. He covers the Tennessee state capitol while also keeping an eye on Fort Campbell and business trends, frequently contributing to national programs. Born in Tennessee and educated in Texas, Blake has called Nashville home for most of his life.