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The TennCare lesson: A national disaster

Years ago Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, called it a "disaster." Today President Obama calls the same idea "reform."

Both the president's prescription for the uninsured and Tennessee's TennCare program are premised on the same sugar pill: a vast expansion of health insurance coverage without affecting cost or quality. But not only did TennCare, enacted in 1994, lead to a cost explosion with its major expansion of Medicaid, Tennessee's mortality rate didn't keep pace with improved rates in neighboring states, according to Heritage Foundation scholar Brian Blase.

With a quarter of Tennessee's population enrolled in TennCare, inflation-adjusted per capita Medicaid spending between 1994 and 2004 increased an average of 146 percent as compared with 71 percent for other states.

And while Tennessee's mortality rate declined modestly in its first four years (2.1 percent), the average decline in surrounding states more than doubled that figure. Hence, a restructuring of TennCare.

The highly touted new health care law expands coverage to 32 million Americans. The bill's projected 10-year estimated cost: $938 billion. If past federal forecasting is any indication, that's a pipe dream.

Given Tennessee's predictable experience, one wonders what ObamaCare cheerleaders have been smoking. No wonder attorneys general in so many states have gone to court.

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