Bipartisanship and the Med 

Well, is it a fix or isn't it?

We are grateful for the good news, conveyed this past week by congressional representatives serving Tennessee's corner of the Mid-South, that obstacles have been removed to the funding of the Med's uninsured patients by the adjoining states of Mississippi and Arkansas. That piece of enabling legislation, a rider to reauthorization of the federal State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), was announced jointly by Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and 9th District congressman Steve Cohen and spoken to at a Monday press conference by Cohen, Corker, and Shelby County mayor A C Wharton. It brings the Med closer to financial relief — perhaps even to its ultimate rescue.

But as all the principals made clear on Monday, nothing really happens until Mississippi and Arkansas, which have been virtual free riders up until now on the Med's services, follow through in actually providing the funding. And until they do, the Med, whose trauma center facilities in particular constitute a regional magnet, is on the hook for a tab that includes some $80 million annually in costs for uncompensated care — much of it stemming from across Tennessee's borders.

The Med's precarious financial situation, which threatens its continued existence, has been worsened by expectations of declining revenue for Tennessee's state and local governments. And, unless our neighboring states, who have their own problems, chip in, that situation won't be appreciably improved.

It would be helpful, to say the least, if Governors Mike Beebe of Arkansas and Haley Barbour of Mississippi made commitments to the Med in keeping with the helpful new legislation and even more helpful if the legislatures of those two states could be induced, as early as possible, to institutionalize appropriate cost-sharing arrangements.

Prompted by their very real cooperation over the Med issue, there was a good deal of bipartisan praise and rhetoric flowing back and forth between Corker, Alexander, and Cohen — the latter of whom, a Democrat, could probably do up some ads for his next reelection campaign featuring quasi-endorsements by his GOP congressional associates.

But the reality is that, both at the federal and the state levels, there is a built-in disconnect between the promise of bipartisanship and the reality of it. Immediately following the mutual praises sung to each other by Republican Corker and Democrat Cohen on Monday, both men were asked about pending federal stimulus legislation.

It was then that the aura of comity and cooperation dissipated, Cohen warning against weakening of the stimulus package in the Senate, where Republicans are proportionally stronger than in the House, and Corker hewing his party's line against the kind of outlays to the states that could alleviate the kind of burdens represented by the current dilemma of the Med.

Everybody these days seems to be giving lip service to President Obama's call for joint action across party lines, and here and there such action takes place. But the old partisan habits are clearly going to die very, very hard, if at all.


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