Tennessee Leaders Pass by on the Other Side, Ignore Federal Help as Citizens Suffer

Andy Spears
3 min readFeb 21, 2021

Sam Stockard at Tennessee Lookout reports that Tennessee’s legislative leaders are likely to reject nearly two billion in federal COVID relief funds to help provide health insurance to working Tennessee’s who lack coverage.

Tennessee is likely to reject hundreds of millions of dollars President Joe Biden is offering states to expand Medicaid as part of his $1.3 trillion COVID-19 relief package, even though hundreds of thousands of people remain without healthcare coverage.

Tennessee, one of 12 states holding out on Medicaid expansion since the Affordable Care Act passed, could receive $1.7 billion to provide insurance for the working poor and more money to cover the people already on TennCare, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Reports indicate that between 300,000 and 600,000 Tennesseans would gain access to coverage through the expansion of Medicaid.

Of course, Gov. Bill Lee has consistently opposed expanding Medicaid to help the most vulnerable Tennesseans. Likewise, as Stockard notes, legislative leaders like Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson have also indicated they are not interested in the federal money, and instead want to move forward with a block grant proposal many advocates have said will leave citizens without coverage.

The willingness to leave federal assistance on the table while citizens suffer is nothing new. In 2019, reports surfaced that the state had left more than $700 million in TANF — Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — funds unspent.

I also wrote about Lee’s reluctance to take Medicaid expansion money back in 2019 — when Donald Trump was President. So, just to be clear, this is not about partisanship. This is about Lee’s fundamental belief that people don’t need help. More specifically, it is about a fundamental unwillingness to help, even when helping would cost Lee and state taxpayers nothing.

Back in 2019, I wrote about Lee and legislators ignoring those in need of healthcare assistance. I noted the parallels between a popular Christian hymn and the despair felt by Tennesseans simply asking that they not be condemned to a life of poverty simply because they get sick. Here’s more:

Imagine standing next to your fellow church-goer and feeling the hope offered in the comforting…



Andy Spears

Writer and policy advocate living in Nashville, TN —Public Policy Ph.D. — writes on education policy, consumer affairs, and more . . .