What gubernatorial candidates say about health care

Candidates for TN governor (top row l-r) Diane Black, Randy Boyd, and Beth Harwell. (bottom row l-r) Bill Lee, Karl Dean, and Craig Fitzhugh.

According to Think Tennessee’s State of Our State dashboard, the state ranks near the bottom in the number of adults with heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. It also ranks near the bottom of all states for the health of senior citizens, infant mortality, number of adults who smoke, and at the absolute bottom in childhood obesity. Tennesseans are, on the whole, not healthy. What can and should our next political leaders do about it?

Each of the major candidates for governor and United States Senate was asked to tell our readers about their views on health care in Tennessee.

Diane Black
“As a career nurse, health care has been a passion of mine for my entire life. Our current system is broken. I have the right experience to fix it.

“The next governor must have a plan for rural healthcare. I propose making our county health departments the hub of care for rural Tennessee and the access point to telehealth. Our county health departments should function as a primary care provider with a system that provides health care based on ability to pay.

“In addition, rural counties need more doctors. I propose Fast-Track MD programs with reduced tuition in exchange for a commitment of becoming a doctor in a rural county.”

Randy Boyd

“There are several key opportunities we have to improve the health of our citizens. First, on day one I will begin negotiations with the federal government for a block grant to our Medicaid program. We need a program for Tennesseans designed by Tennesseans, and we can do better than a one-size-fits-all mandate from Washington.

“I also believe there is too much discussion about what to do when we are sick and not enough focus on getting healthier. With Tennessee ranking in the bottom of nearly every health metric, while remaining low in income levels, we simply cannot afford the health we have.

“However, we can fix this.

“At my company, after eight years of comprehensive health programs, health insurance claims were reduced by 19 percent last year—it can be done. In our schools, we can increase exercise opportunities for students and provide educational opportunities for good health.

“There is also a need for more primary care doctors in our rural communities. We can solve this by partnering with medical schools to offer greater residency programs in rural, underserved areas.”

Beth Harwell
“I think the two biggest keys to improving our population’s health from the government’s stand-point are education and personal responsibility. It is not the role of the government to police things that people are eating or drinking on a daily basis, but what we can do is make sure that we are giving people the information they need to make healthy choices.

“We must make sure we are starting young and are working to increase awareness about these issues among our students. There are ample opportunities in our schools to educate our kids about nutrition, healthy habits, regular activity, and exercise. Often, what is taught to our children in school comes home to the parents as well.

“We need to also raise awareness about preventative care. Chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes are much more treatable when caught early. It is extremely important that our population understands the importance of regular check-ups and preventative care. We need to embrace new innovative technologies like telemedicine to ensure that more people have access to healthcare before these problems arise.”

Bill Lee
“There’s no doubt that we face a tsunami of lifestyle diseases in Tennessee. This includes issues such as heart disease, obesity and side effects related to smoking. It is a growing epidemic in Tennessee and across the country as well.

Thirty years ago, no state had more than 20% of its population that was overweight or obese. Today, no state is below 20%, and some are over 30% and inching up to 40%.

“We are seeing this growth in part because our entire health care system is broken. We see skyrocketing costs every year for patients, providers, and payers because there are no financial incentives to control them. The system does not provide options for patients to take stock of their healthcare and know how much it costs, and providers are not rewarded for addressing prevention and wellness. We have to fundamentally break through that mindset to focus less on just delivering healthcare and more on our overall health.”

Karl Dean
“I firmly believe that our overall quality of life is directly linked to health. It plays a role in our state’s economic viability, productivity and educational outcomes for students.

“We simply cannot afford the health we have.

“As mayor of Nashville, we made the goal of improved health a focus of my administration. We championed healthy living by expanding access to parks, greenways and community centers. We also built a state-of-the-art public health facility.

“We created the ‘Walk 100 Mile’ challenge, the Mayor’s 5K, the Mayor’s Field Day, invested in sidewalks, bike paths, established a new bicycle program and added more parks, greenways, and community centers.

“As an adult, we know the results of unhealthy behaviors, but children do not. We need to equip our schools and teachers with the resources they need to teach our kids how to live healthy lifestyles.

“Encouraging preventative care is one of the smartest, most cost-effective things we can do as a government to improve the health of our community.”

Craig Fitzhugh
“As the numbers show, Tennessee has a long way to go to improve our individual and collective health. This has not been a sudden occurrence, and while personal responsibility plays a large role in health, political leaders and policymakers have a part to play. The first thing, as I have stated constantly in my legislative career and in my campaign for governor, is that we need to expand Medicaid. It is a must. By expanding Medicaid we could keep our hospitals open, allowing people to see a doctor on a consistent basis, instead of health issues becoming an emergency.

“Screenings for blood pressure, cancer and diabetes would go a long way towards curbing our mortality numbers. Testing for and educating people on their health (and teaching them how to prevent, control and treat chronic ailments) lead to longer lives and a better quality of life—and is also cost-effective for the individual Tennesseans and our communities.

“We have to educate our citizens on good food choices, curbing/ eliminating tobacco use and making time for exercise.”

(Next week Senate candidates)