The state senate special election day is right around the corner on March 13th. To make sure we all have the best information to cast our votes, I recently talked with Republican candidate Shane Reeves about his views on healthcare and education.
Our full conversation, lightly edited for clarity, appears below.
Healthcare tends to be top of mind for most people that I’ve talked to. With your extensive background in healthcare, what’s your view on Governor Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal and making healthcare more affordable for us in district 14?
Medicaid needs to stay Medicaid. I’m a pharmacist every single day in my business. I provide medications to TennCare and Medicaid patients all over the state of Tennessee. That’s 25% of the population. Around one and a half million people are on Medicaid Program.
We need to continue to let Medicaid be what it is as far the state-funded program with some federal dollars. Let’s make sure we’re continuing to meet that need. That is absolutely one of the functions of government – to try to take care of some most marginalized citizens.
But for everybody from that point up – that’s the working poor all the way up even through Medicare, which the vast majority of Tennesseans – we need to find different kinds of options. I really do find more private section, private type of private options.
In the League of Women Voters forum, you said, “We’ve got to find ways to drive down costs, increase competition, and continue to have great quality.” As a state senator, what legislation would you propose to do that?
Across the board, there’s no way in the world that we’re going to getting meaningful healthcare reform out of Washington. It’s just not going to happen. It’s too fragmented. It’s too complex. We’re going to have to get some solutions out of Tennessee.
We leave our Medicaid program the way it is. But let’s start taking the steps to see what we can do to increase consumerism in the marketplace. This is this is not something brand new around the world. It’s just new to America.
I want to put some insurance programs in place where the average person, who’s working in the state of Tennessee, can have an insurance product, where that interest product might have a catastrophic help component to it, like a really high deductible health plan that’s tied to it. It could be managed by Blue Cross Blue Shield, United, or Sigma. In the event that heaven forbid you’re on the way home tonight, you have a terrible car accident, and you’ve got to $300,000 medical bill, it doesn’t wipe you out. You need to have some kind of high deductible health plan, catastrophic insurance plan to take care of you.
Below that, I’d like to see us look toward creating something in the state where everybody, beyond that high deductible plan, have these HSAs (health savings accounts) for our citizenry. They start building up their own money in these accounts. Then we really and truly are guiding where we spend our healthcare dollars.
If you and your wife are going to have a baby and it’s coming out of your account – it truly is your cash – then the HSA has built up $25,000 in it, you and your wife may shop that. You might talk to Centennial, Vanderbilt, etc. – you’ll shop that.
It’s such a different way to think about healthcare when the consumers are driving. It increases competition because all the providers are trying to get your business. It increases quality because if everyone knows they’re not doing a good job, no one is going to come to them. And it drives down cost because people are being competitive in the marketplace.
This is this is being done in different places around the world. You look at the country of Singapore right now. The average lifespan is in the mid-eighties. They’re like number two or three in the whole world as far as the average lifespan. But they only spend about $1,000 per citizen on healthcare. In the United States, we’re spending $8,000 per citizen on healthcare. But in average lifespan, we’re 32nd in the world. Not only are we spending eight times more money than they are, we’re all dying younger.
What Singapore has done is almost exactly what I’m suggesting. They have a program for their Medicaid type of population. They have a catastrophic insurance at the top, where they’re able to take care of people who are having a liver transplant, in the car accidents. But everybody in the middle, their entire working society, has these aggressive HSA plans that employers are helping to fund and that the patients are helping to fund.
If you work at this two or three years, build up $40,000, and then your child has the flu. You’re going to think a little bit about where to spend your cash.
We need a heavy dose of consumers in the marketplace and needs to be a product, needs to be privately driven products for everybody from our true working poor in the state all the way up to the people that are making these enormous salaries.
The big picture is this – we just need to rethink healthcare. There’s no reason the world we can’t do this in the state of Tennessee. We’ve got incredible brain power in Nashville. We’re kind of known for being Music City in Nashville. We’re also kinda Healthcare City USA. We have HCA, Vanderbilt, CHF, and Ascension. We have some of the largest assisted living homes and nursing homes in the whole country. We have everything we need from acute care and post acute care provider base to drive this.
And the fact is that Blue Cross has the vast majority of the business in the state. We need to reach out to the Blues, the United Healthcares, the Sigmas, the Atenas, and the Humanas and get them to be part of a larger private plane. Let’s see if we can rethinking healthcare and find a Tennessee-based solution that’s good for all of us it’s good for me and good for your family too.
To get into the weeds a bit on that, do you think this model works for more rural districts? Here in Lincoln County, we’ve got one hospital rather than all the ones that Nashville has.
Hospitals need to be reserved for what hospitals really are intended for – that is for acute care. You go to the hospital when you break your leg. You go to the hospital when you had a heart attack. We need to get away from hospitals being anything more than just a place for really super sick people that are trying to recover sickness or surgery.
I believe this model works in Lincoln County for the vast majority of things that you need. So many things that you would need or your wife or your baby, you can get the post acute care section. You can get it from a really good doctor, from a really good pharmacy.
If I have a massive heart attack today in Murfreesboro, they’re shipping me to Nashville too. I’ve got three hospitals in my back door here in Murfreesboro. At some point in time, the acuteness is more than a hospital can stand. Let’s make sure the rural hospitals in Lincoln County have got enough resources to meet to meet the basic needs and the acute needs of the main things that are people walking in for. If you looked at it, I guarantee there’s probably about 25 things people are routinely coming to that hospital for that are acute. You know the man breaks his leg, the child’s got a terrible case of stomach virus or the flu, you’ve got somebody who has had a massive heart attack – all of those things – that hospital can still stabilize you in Lincoln County and then you may have to go to Vanderbilt.
On the education issue, you’ve said that “educational decisions are best made when in close contact with the educators at a local level”. If you win the election, what role do you see the state senate playing in education?
My mom’s been an educator for 30-something years so I have a real heart in public school systems. Ultimately where kids go to school, mom and dad need to be making this decision for where kids are going to go to school.
I want to be supportive of the local school boards. The school board’s in these different counties, and they’re very different counties – Rutherford Bedford, Marshall, Moore, and Lincoln – all have different approaches. They’ve got different people.
I want to be supportive of the school board in Lincoln County in regards to education. They ultimately know what they have to do. If they’ve got massive overcrowding issues down there, it’s a school board responsibility to figure that out. If they’re not meeting not meeting the test scores that are being laid out, those teachers are already feeling a considerable amount of pressure, those school boards need to figure all that out.
I want to be part of the solution. If they’re consistently not getting it done, I want to be the guy that sits down with the school board and say, “Well, let’s look at options.” Do we need to try to get more funding for public education? Do we need to find some other creative charter programs or voucher programs or something for the community?
I’m not some big-time voucher or big-time charter because that’s not how I feel. I want to work with the school boards. I want to be the guy that’s helping them look at best practices from other counties that are working and be a conduit from the state to get them the resources they need. That way, the kids in Lincoln County can get educated and then stay in Lincoln County for a career.
That’s a real problem you’ve got in Lincoln County. These families I’ve talked to in the last few weeks. Your kids just don’t stay there. You can’t blame them.
I was talking to the mayor about this recently. I said,”You know, you can’t go out and recruit a big industry to move to Lincoln County. What you’ve got to do is you’ve got to have the workforce development and training first.”
You’ve got to think of – what is it exactly we want to do down here? You’ve got that big Toyota plant that’s going to be coming down in Huntsville in the next couple of few years. If I was Mayor Newman, you need to put yet a plan in place right now and really develop something right now, where you can have a couple hundred people – just have your young people rolling out – getting training this program that want to be part of that Toyota plant. It’ll grow your Lincoln County population, people can drive down there every day just like people are driving from Murfreesboro to Nashville.
You got to develop the workforce first, and then the companies will come. The days of just bringing the companies in and saying “hey, let’s get everyone trained” just doesn’t work anymore.
As voters head to the polls, what do you want them to think about before casting their vote?
The one thing I want them to know about me in Lincoln County is this – I will be accessible. I want to have my cell phone available. I want to be a serious problem solver. At the state level, I want to be a conduit for individuals and for families and for businesses to go back and forth between the state.
I hope that people say 24 months from now, “You know that Shane Reeves, his office provides such tremendous customer service for us in Lincoln County.” I hope that people will know me as a businessman that’s spent my entire life solving problems. I hope they’ll also know me as a person that is conservative and provides good customer service. That’s who I’m trying to become and what I want to be known for.
If you haven’t yet, make sure to check out our guide to this special election and then vote!