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A person’s overall quality of life is directly linked to their health. The health of Tennesseans also plays a role in our state’s economic viability as it affects worker productivity and educational outcomes for students. It is for these reasons that Karl believes every Tennessean deserves access to affordable, quality healthcare as well as opportunities to live a healthy, active lifestyle.
Our country is in a period of uncertainty when it comes to our federal healthcare law. No matter where things stand on a national level, as governor, Karl will be a relentless advocate for access to quality healthcare for all Tennesseans.
As Mayor of Nashville, Karl made the goal of improved health a central focus for his administration. He championed healthy living by greatly expanding access to parks, greenways and community centers. Karl also provided funds to keep Nashville’s safety net hospital open and operating, and he widely promoted the federal healthcare exchange to Nashvillians without health insurance when the Affordable Care Act was passed. Karl will bring the same commitment on healthcare for all Tennesseans to the governor’s office.
Lifestyle choices and access to preventative healthcare can play a significant role in determining an individual’s overall health. This is why Karl was an avid proponent of making Nashville a healthier place to live during his time as mayor. This work included adding 200 miles of sidewalks, tripling the miles of bikeways and adding 40 new miles of greenways. He also implemented a bike-share system through a partnership with the private sector.
As governor, Karl will extend his work on healthy living to all Tennessee communities with a special focus on improving the lifestyles of our state’s youngest citizens. Tennessee has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the nation. Childhood obesity is known to be linked to chronic health problems later in life, including heart disease and diabetes. Children who are obese are also more likely to face social and emotional issues, such as bullying and depression. Since children depend on adults to give them access to healthy choices, Karl believes we have a moral obligation to provide Tennessee’s youth with access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity, especially in our public schools.
Karl believes helping Tennesseans live healthier lives must include improving access to preventative healthcare. He applauds the state’s work on promoting value of healthcare over volume of services. This has included the phased implementation of healthcare initiatives called Episodes of Care for Tenncare participants, which has lowered healthcare costs and improved patient outcomes. Karl is committed to continuing and furthering this work.
Under the Affordable Care Act, states have the option of expanding Medicaid and receiving additional federal tax dollars to provide health coverage for low-income persons and families. Karl believes our state should act immediately to do this. He supported Governor Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan, as did over 75 percent of all Tennesseans. The plan would expand coverage to those who do not fit in a category to qualify for Medicaid and do not make enough money to afford health insurance.
By not expanding Medicaid in Tennessee, the state loses $2.5 million a day of federal funding. This means billions of our tax dollars are going to other states and more than 300,000 Tennesseans have been left without affordable health insurance. Veterans and those with a mental health diagnosis are among the vulnerable populations most detrimentally impacted by this, including those in the throes of opioid addiction who need treatment.
By not serving all Tennesseans in need, our state is also at risk of receiving fewer federal dollars for Medicaid in the future. This is because federal healthcare overhaul plans propose using current Medicaid spending as a benchmark for allocations going forward.
Our state is home to many healthcare industry leaders, including hospital management companies and innovators in healthcare technology. However, the industry’s changing landscape including the state’s decision not to expand Medicaid has forced many hospitals in rural parts of our state to close. In fact, Tennessee is second in the nation for the number of hospitals that have closed in recent years.
These hospital closures have left many rural Tennessee communities without easy access to emergency care and sometimes no access to care where emergency rooms had served as the only nearby clinic. Lives are lost when emergency medical response requires a long-distance ambulance ride. These communities are also suffering the financial burden of paying for more ambulances services out of local tax dollars. With the resources available in Tennessee, Karl believes we should be able to do better. He will work with the state legislature, nonprofits and healthcare professionals to develop pragmatic solutions to increase access to care.
The number of opioid-related deaths in Tennessee has skyrocketed over the last two decades. More people are now dying in Tennessee of drug overdose than motor vehicle accidents, and 72 percent of the state’s overdose deaths are opioid-related. Karl believes the government response to opioid use should match the level of public health crisis it has become.To that end, he supports the recent work of the state legislature’s opioid task force.
Karl knows that opioid addiction is a complex issue and that more must be done to provide treatment programs while also stepping up prosecution of drug dealers. He also agrees with the state’s opioid task force that solutions must address the overuse of legal access to drugs. Tennessee has the second highest rate of opioid prescriptions in the country with opioid prescriptions in our state outnumbering residents 4 to 1. As governor, Karl will work across party lines and in partnership with the healthcare community to identify and address the root causes of the state’s opioid crisis.
Our environment — including access to clean air and clean water — have a big impact on our health, and even more so for young children and the elderly. As Mayor of Nashville, Karl was committed to environmental stewardship, creating a dedicated Office of Sustainability. This office worked to expand the city’s recycling program, conserve open lands by adding 25 percent more park space and reduce the energy use of government buildings with more efficient features and energy monitoring. Karl’s administration also worked to reduce pollutants in the city’s waterways with new water-sewer infrastructure and stormwater requirements. Nashville is greener and more environmentally-friendly today because of Karl’s leadership.
Current proposed federal budget changes call for historic cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, a department created to regulate air and water pollutants. The cuts would bring the department’s funding to its lowest levels in 40 years. These cuts are unthinkable, especially in the wake of large environmental disasters like the TVA coal ash spill in 2008. There are 17 hazardous waste sites in Tennessee that have been identified in need of cleanup, and there are communities across Tennessee that are depending on EPA funding for loans to improve water infrastructure.
Karl believes for Tennessee to be a healthy and prosperous state now and for generations to come, we must protect and preserve our most essential natural resources. As governor, Karl will fight to protect Tennessee’s environment. His track record as Mayor of Nashville has proven that economic growth and environmental protection can go hand-in-hand.