Tennessee Governor Bill Lee

NASHVILLE, TN — This afternoon, two faith leaders, a family physician, and a peer recovery specialist spoke on a press conference call on the importance of expanding Medicaid, especially to Tennesseans struggling with opioid addiction.

Governor-elect Bill Lee promised to bring his faith into the Governor’s office, and speakers asked him to put his faith into practice.

Rev. Merrilee Wineinger of Edgehill United Methodist Church in Nashville began her remarks by quoting Isaiah 1:16-17: “Marching orders! Loud and clear Isaiah gives the leaders of Israel their marching orders. Stepping into Isaiah’s shoes, clergy and laity across Tennessee echo the same marching orders to our elected-officials: make a fresh start, create laws and policies that help not harm Tennesseans, seek out those in need, protect our children, care for our seniors. Today, we are here to plead the case for those who have been abandoned by life’s circumstances – the uninsured – our friends, neighbors, families and the church members sitting in the pew next to you.”

Pastor Sam Ordung of Dowelltown discussed the need for Medicaid expansion in his rural community. “We don’t have the same access to care in rural communities. You’re left with walk-in clinics and not primary care physicians. Instead of treating the illness, more often than not we are just giving pain medication to mask the issue. I know a young man who was given hydrocodone for the pain because he wouldn’t have access to physical therapy. Without that access, you are left choosing to drive 45 minutes to Murfreesboro or 45 minutes Cookeville.”

Sandy Brainard of Nashville has been on the front lines of substance abuse issues for 33 years. She is in longterm recovery and went on to become a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist to help others recover.

“I recently lost three young friends in a matter of months to overdoses. And that is happening all over our country every minute of every day.  So often people feel shame and guilt when they relapse; it is on all of us to eliminate the stigma that just because they have this condition, does not mean they are not valuable and loved.  Expanding Medicaid and access to treatment offers hope,“ said Brainard.

“Expanding Medicaid will improve quality of life and economic productivity of our citizens and prevent medical bankruptcies which are very common in our state,” said Dr. Eric Harman, a family medicine physician at Mountain Region Family Medicine in Kingsport. “It is morally the right thing to do for the greatest country in the world to allow people to have improved health security and not to fear one treatable or preventable health problem killing them or ruining their lives.”

Roughly 163,000 Tennesseans have no realistic access to health insurance without Medicaid expansion.