- The candidate forum took place at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
- UT, Lipscomb University and the USA Today Network – Tennessee sponsored the event.
- The next forum is scheduled for May 19 at 7 p.m. CDT at Lipscomb University.
KNOXVILLE — Tennessee’s Democratic gubernatorial candidates on Thursday called for the expansion of Medicaid to address health equity gaps in the state.
Dr. Jason Martin and Memphis City Council member J.B. Smiley, both vying for the Democratic nomination in the Aug. 4 primary, said the state should join the majority of the country in expanding Medicaid.
Expansion could extend TennCare coverage to an estimated 300,000 people, many of whom cannot afford private medical insurance.
Martin criticized Gov. Bill Lee and the General Assembly’s “radical supermajority” for leaving federal dollars on the table during a candidate forum Thursday night at the University of Tennessee, while both candidates called for leadership to do more for Tennesseans outside of the state’s biggest cities.
“Health equity doesn’t stop or start with expanding Medicaid, we need to invest in communities who are suffering and neglected,” Smiley said.
The forum on university’s Knoxville campus kicked off a series of six candidate conversations leading up to the 2022 elections. The University of Tennessee System and Lipscomb University jointly partnered with the USA Today Network – Tennessee to host the series.
Lee also attended the forum but did not take the stage with his Democratic opponents, instead answering questions in an one-on-one format.
Though Lee didn’t mention a broad Medicaid expansion, he did note Tennessee recently expanded Medicaid coverage for postpartum mothers.
The state in April opted in to extend TennCare coverage from 60 day post-birth to 12 months, a new option afforded states through pandemic recovery legislation. Tennessee is one of 13 states to take advantage of the federal extension.
Lee mentioned the post-partum expansion when asked about his anti-abortion stance during his administration. Lee has signed some of the country’s strictest anti-abortion bills into law, including a trigger law that will effectively ban abortion in Tennessee should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the Roe v. Wade decision later this summer.
“What we really ought to be doing is considering the woman that’s in this situation and the child that we want to protect,” Lee said. “I think we should do everything in our state to protect those children, but to also serve those women. We can do both at the same time.”
Martin on Thursday criticized Lee for not engaging in a debate with the Democratic candidates.
Smiley criticized the governor’s inaction last week on a controversial bill that would add criminal penalties to homelessness. Some faith leaders lobbied Lee to veto the bill, but the governor instead declined to sign it. It was a signal he didn’t necessarily agree with the legislation, but the move allowed the bill to move forward to become law.
“We need courage, we need bold leadership,” Smiley said.
A third Democratic candidate, Carnita Atwater, was scheduled to attend but had a last-minute conflict and did not participate.
Following the gubernatorial candidates, Democratic congressional candidates Cameron Parsons, running for the 1st Congressional District, and Mark Harmon, running for the 2nd, took the stage. Republican incumbents Rep. Diana Harshbarger, R-Kingsport, and Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, declined invitations to participate.
The next forum will be held at Libscomb University in Nashville on May 19 featuring gubernatorial candidates and congressional candidates in districts 5, 6 and 7.
Reach Melissa Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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