Among the group of 11 women were health care professionals, teachers and mothers who told Bredesen of their struggles to get and keep affordable insurance, mental health and their experiences with the Department of Children’s Services.
Without the use of campaign talking points, Bredesen spent most of the luncheon listening and asking questions.
“When people talk about issues that are important to them, health care is mentioned almost all the time, but what I found was that we unpack it – it means different things to different people. There is a set of concerns around this table that have to do with frustrations with insurance and the ability to get insurance. If I go into a more rural county than this, the frustrations will be about our hospital is about to close, and there's no doctors in town. It’s just different in different parts of the state,” Bredesen said.
“So what I’m trying to do is to just talk to people who have some involvement in the health care system, as to what they found frustrating, what they’ve found that works, what their concerns might be. Just try to build a little more accurate and complex picture of how people are actually thinking about this and what the problems actually are.”
Michelle Hill, executive director of Empower Me Day Camp, spoke about the importance to address special needs issues in the health care system and her experiences as part of the discussion.
“It was a privilege to be asked to come and to speak on behalf of our special needs families at Empower Me and those who we serve at Dynamic Therapy Center,” Hill said. “It’s always wonderful when politicians reach out to the community members to try and find out what is going on in the trenches and being able to speak as a parent and a therapist working with these children on a day-in, day-out basis. It’s great to be able to share that information with Gov. Bredesen.
“The health care system needs all kinds of revamping, especially for the special needs community. They are a lot of times overlooked, and the needs of some of our children are so specific and sometimes so immense that the health care system is not doing what needs to be done to be able to help these kids.”
Bredesen empathized with the challenges and frustrations that face Tennesseans. He heard stories of people who lost insurance and got the run-around by insurance companies or who had to pay more money for a drug in a liquid form versus a pill. Bredesen spoke about his experience talking to voters in his sixth previous roundtables. He said many of the stories were common among different groups of people.
“The influence of just the whole provider, manufacturing and insurance system in the Congress is so large. You’ve got to remember that on medications, Medicare is prohibited legally from negotiating prices for medications. If you’re a pharmaceutical company and the biggest customer you’ve got in the world is prohibited from negotiating prices with you, what are you going to do?”
When asked why pharmaceutical companies are able to get away with raising drug prices in such large amounts, Bredesen replied, “Because they can. It doesn’t happen in places where you have some central purchasing authority,” said Bredesen.
“The extent to which people are frustrated, just by the whole payment system, the insurance companies and what they’ve got to go through to get services and the difficulties of finding affordable insurance, that has been a constant in every one of these [meetings with voters], and it’s obviously a problem in this country.”
Bredesen spoke about his long history with tackling health care issues and as a national leader in the subject, as a reason he should serve in the Senate.
“Before becoming involved in politics, I was in the health care field on the business side. Obviously, as governor I was up to my eyebrows in it with all the TennCare stuff that was on there, and you know running the Medicaid program and large public health programs of the like. I think it’s probably fair to say that when I was governor that among the 50 governors, I became the go-to-person on health care and Medicaid issues. I was the one that they would call about those kinds of issues, and I’d love to play a similar kind of role up there,” Bredesen said. “It’s a subject that I’ve spent a lot of my life in. It’s a complicated subject, people are frustrated by it and I think I can be an influential voice in the kinds of things that are put together in Washington as solutions to these problems.”