It’s clear that Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) desperately wants to become President Obama’s Health and Human Services Secretary. In fact, as the Nashville Post blog points out, he was campaigning for the job in his State of the State address yesterday, stating, “[T]his recession has truly underlined for me something that I’ve believed for a long time: that we need a national solution for health insurance.”
His candidacy, however, has been widely opposed by health care experts. Ron Pollack of FamiliesUSA summarized some of the problems with Bredesen:
Phil Bredesen presided over the largest state cutback of public health programs in the history of our nation, so how can one not be worried about him? I worry that the relationship he would have to the Obama team would harm the credibility of what the president is trying to do. And I think it would create a firestorm among the strongest supporters of health care reform.
FamiliesUSA, in fact, released a whole book on Bredesen’s devastating cuts to the state’s Medicaid program, TennCare, which resulted in 320,000 low-income residents losing health coverage. As Ezra Klein explains, “He eventually limited TennCare enrollees to four prescriptions per month, 12 doctors visits per year and 20 days in the hospital each year. He refused to allow Tennesseans to pay higher premiums to keep their coverage. … In 2008, Tennessee ranked 47th in the respected health rankings compiled by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation.”
Bredesen is now biting back at these criticisms:
“Anybody who’s got some real scars and experience is going to have their detractors,” the governor said Monday in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “People at the White House are smart enough to be able to assess that.” And he took a swipe at his opponents, saying that “advocacy groups don’t matter nearly as much as the pharmaceutical groups, the hospitals, the doctors’ groups. There’s a lot of very powerful interest groups that will play in this thing.”
This quote by Bredesen — dismissing advocacy groups and embracing industry interests — is typical of his tenure in office. In 2005, Bredesen’s wife, Andrea Conte, embarked on a $9.4 million renovation of the governor’s mansion. The largest donor to the project? BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, which gave $150,000.
While in making cuts to TennCare, Bredesen largely “cast aside” the “cost saving ideas of advocates” that would have increase health care coverage while also addressing the state’s budget crisis. But as TNR’s Jonathan Cohn notes, advocates will be necessary in pushing health care reform through Congress; a lack of coordinated support amongst liberal allies was part of the reason that President Clinton’s health care plan failed to conservative attacks.
The Wonk Room’s Igor Volsky has put together a list of the leading HHS candidates here.
Bredesen is now denying that he was campaigning for the job in yesterday’s speech.