Insure Tennessee: An Intern’s Introduction to Nashville’s Healthcare System

By Belle H Bennett Fellow Narcissa Haskins

It was two years ago that Governor Haslam presented Insure Tennessee to all of Nashvillians. But it was just last year that it was introduced to me. Coming from a research and library background, my only knowledge of the healthcare system was sourced from my family who worked in the field. I assumed the Affordable Care Act granted everyone who was low income and below the poverty line insurance in every state. Well, so I thought. It was not until I walked into the Tennessee Justice Center that I was informed of an unfortunate and unjust reality. Tennessee, along with many other states, opted out of expanding their state Medicaid. As a result, there were some Tennesseans without health coverage.

When Insure Tennessee did not pass last year, it left over 280,000 Tennesseans in the coverage gap. The reality of this number became clearer as I assumed my role as a Client Advocate Fellow. During my first two months at the Tennessee Justice Center I had the pleasure of phone banking with Katie Alexander (Insure TN Advocate) for TJC’s Counting the Cost Tour. It was an opportunity for the people of Tennessee to learn about Insure TN and how they can organize their own communities. Once the tour came to completion, I was assigned clients and began doing intake phone calls. After talking with 5 different clients who we could assist with TennCare, I became overwhelmed. Hearing all of the supporters from phone banking and discovering gap clients from intake phone calls, the 280,000 became tangible. I began to think about my personal reality. If I were a resident of Nashville, even though I have a low wage job, I would ineligible for TennCare because I do not have breast or cervical cancer, severe injuries, and cannot claim young children on my taxes.

As a Belle H. Bennett Fellow, I felt the need to ask Katie Alexander a few questions*:

Narcissa: What are 3 key things a fellow activist should know about Insure TN?

Katie: It is going to help 280,000 people, it is cost neutral, and it will save hospitals from closing.

Narcissa: What has been the most rewarding?

Katie: Working with people across Tennessee like Pam who marched throughout 7 of her senator’s counties.

Narcissa: What organization has been your most important relationship during this process?

Katie: Tennessee Health Campaign

Narcissa: What do you want people to know about Insure Tennessee who are for racial equality?

Katie: Healthcare insecurity and racism go hand and hand. It can be a barrier that can often go unnoticed.

The reality that I would not be covered under TennCare guidelines inspired me to continue to spread the word to the Nashville community that I belong to. On January 11, 2016, I had the opportunity to assist at the capital steps for a luminary display and candle light vigil in downtown Nashville. It was a moment for citizens of Nashville to pray for those who are not only left without access to healthcare coverage but also for those who have died because of it.

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Working with the TJC continues to be an eye opening experience and I hope what I shared about Insure Tennessee inspires you to go out and organize for those who cannot. Insure TN is a bill that would allow 280,000 Tennesseans gain access to health care coverage, save rural hospitals, and bring over $1 billion of Tennessee’s federal tax dollars back to the state – all without using a dime from local taxes. Make sure to let your elected officials know that you stand with #InsureTN.

To get more detailed information about Insure Tennessee please visit these sites.

*answers summarized

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 12.22.59 PMNarcissa Haskins is a 2015 graduate of Bennett College. She is currently a Belle H. Bennett fellow at the Scarritt Bennett Center where she

is exploring advocacy at the Tennessee Justice Center.