One state funded healthcare plan that's not on life support is the one that covers Tennessee legislators - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Posted by: George Metaxas, 2/7/05, 5:56 p.m.

One state funded healthcare plan that's not on life support is the one that covers Tennessee legislators

Governor Bredesen says saving Tennessee means cuts to TennCare. Lawmakers say the program has spiraled into a big money drain for the state. But there's been no mention of cuts to the lawmakers own healthcare plan. It's a plan that has some lawmakers set for life. 353,000 people could soon be cut from the TennCare roles. They'd lose their health insurance. Legislators would have to sign off on Governor Phil Bredesen's proposal. But so far, no one's talked of cutting their healthcare.

One state funded healthcare plan that's not on life support is the one that covers Tennessee legislators. Their plan has taxpayers paying 80 % of the premium. They have to pay 20 %. "We don't get compensated very more for our position. Our jobs are very poorly paid and health care benefits we're paid is in essence part of our salary." Senators like Steve Cohen make $16,500 per year. But even when lawmakers leave Nashville, they're still eligible for the state healthcare plan.

Roscoe Dixon left his post in the Tennessee Senate last year to work for Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County. But he kept his state healthcare. He said he pays $76 a month out of his pocket in premiums. "We have to pay just like you have to pay on your job." Dixon explains that the state plan is no different than a lot of companies. "You're an employee just like Federal Express, Union Planters. It's no difference."

As for total costs, healthcare plans for current and former legislators cost taxpayers about $1.7 million a year. Not enough to even dent TennCare costs. As for TennCare, Steve Cohen proposes fully funding it with a $.50 a pack cigarette tax. Dixon proposes taxing businesses statewide and reimbursing only those who provide health insurance to their employees. "I think we need to start searching for answers. Because anytime you talk about cutting 350,000 people, that's a challenge to your healthcare system." Dixon thinks most Memphians cut from TennCare will be ok because they will qualify for Medicaid. As for that Cigarette tax, even Cohen admits it's a longshot, in a state that has a sizable tobacco crop.

Here's a closer look at the costs. Lawmakers pay on average anywhere from $81 to $86 for individual coverage. A lawmaker with a family would pay $215 for coverage. If you compare that cost to TennCare. Individuals pay anywhere from nothing to $550 a month for coverage. The cost for families ranges from nothing up to $1,375 a month.

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