NEWS & LETTERS, July-August 2005

Disability rights activists fight cuts

Nashville, Tenn.--TennCare beneficiaries and activists from the Tennessee Peace and Justice Center, the Memphis Center for Independent Living (MCIL) and ADAPT, a radical grassroots disability rights group, have occupied Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesenís office since June 20, demanding that the Governor stop disqualifying Medicaid enrollees and have an open public hearing on TennCare, the Tennessee Medicaid program.

The individuals have been steadfast in their belief that the Governor is committing an unconscionable mistake in his proposal to devastate TennCare. We spent the weekend in the Governorís office, sleeping on the floor, unable to get food, water or blankets from allies holding vigil outside the locked public building.

In the beginning, 12 people slept overnight in the Governorís office to highlight our demand that Bredesen meet publicly and clarify the huge healthcare cuts he has proposed. Bredesen was elected promising to fix TennCare, but without any public involvement, he has broken his promise and is proposing only minimal Medicaid coverage in Tennessee.

 "We believe in what we are doing," said Randy Alexander of Tennessee ADAPT from the Governorís office, "That belief is growing. More and more people are here every day and night. Itís a fantastic feeling after a hard day to see 50 to 60 people outside the window holding a candlelight vigil."

"I remember April 8 when we delivered to this office a ten-point plan, developed by experts who know about healthcare, and we asked for a speedy response from the Governor. The plan called for the State to save $649 million and allow qualified TennCare recipients to stay on the rolls," recalled Dr. Dwight Montgomery of the Memphis chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), who joined the protesters. "The Governor has never considered what we presented on April 8."

Gov. Bredesen has been hyping his healthcare draft. He gave speeches in Washington, DC, painting his untried proposal as accomplishment. He proposed eliminating healthcare for over 300,000 people in an effort to save the state money, but because Tennessee gets a federal match for the state Medicaid program, his plan results in hundreds of millions of dollars less for the healthcare of Tennessee citizens.

More people join the nightly vigil that is held outside the building after it is locked for the evening around 6:00 pm. Our office is receiving e-mails, phone calls and letters from across the country. The whole nation is looking at Tennessee right now and the support is really fantastic.

Bredesen called the events in his office "a circus." Activists spending the night in the office see the occupation and growing support as democracy in action and we are irritated that he has such a shallow view of the citizens that elected him.  "If the Governor wants to engage in name-calling," said Alexander, "we will just take the high road."

--MCIL Activists

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