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Training rural ambassadors to help expand Medicaid

Larry Drain, rural ambassador, with Katie Alexander and Bill Dobbins
Larry Drain, rural ambassador, with Katie Alexander and Bill Dobbins
Catherine Hill

Last Saturday, I attended the Rural Ambassador Meeting to support Medicaid Expansion presented by the coalition with which I have been working. I missed the Friday evening session to avoid driving alone at night, but Saturday was a revelation.

Among the rural ambassadors were Larry and Linda Drain, who have courageously shared their the circumstances of their government-inspired divorce. (You can see Larry’s daily blog at I was also happy to meet in person Randall and Meryl Woo Rice, with whom I have been corresponding on Facebook. I was delighted to find our rural ambassadors both intelligent and articulate, for we are depending on them to spread our message where it is most needed.

There was plenty of one-on-one face time, with a delicious lunch, snacks, and plentiful soft drinks provided, but our Saturday meeting focused on three presentations. These were lively, in-person events. No one suffered from Power Point Poisoning, and the flow chart and table type handouts will repay months of study. We ended with a facilitated round table on approaching the media.

Our first presentation was on how and when to approach Tennessee legislators to have maximum effect. This was conducted by Matt Mullen, Director of Tennessee Citizen Action, and Bill Dobbins of the Rural Health Association of Tennessee. These men both work closely with our legislature and provided great handouts. Their essential point was that activists should be in frequent contact with their legislators and be aware that most decisions on bills and their presentation are made during November and December. Also highlighted was the need to stay polite, which is hard in some cases.

The presentation after lunch was titled Approaching Your Neighbors and the Outreach Toolbox. Katie Alexander and Rachel Clifton of the Tennessee Justice Center helped us understand the language of the Affordable Care Act and the related languages of TennCare. They provided some really neat flowcharts on the various categories of TennCare eligibility and how to determine them. These will be a big help to our rural ambassadors trying to answer their neighbors’ questions.

The third presentation by Margaret Ecker of the Tennessee Justice Center was on the Gap Story Bank. Currently, at least 162,000 Tennesseans are in the ‘coverage gap’ (or the Haslam Chasm, as we call it). They make too much to apply for Medicaid but not enough to take advantage of the Health Care Marketplace. One problem we’ve encountered in getting these folks’ stories is that many are inarticulate and afraid to talk. Aware of this, Margaret has formed a Nurse Brigade of semi-retired nurses who will take stories over the phone. If you are in the gap, leave a message at (615) 900-GAP3, and a nurse will call you to get your story.

These health care stories are important to put a human face on what real Tennesseans are suffering. We hope to leave our legislators asking one question – How does Governor Haslam sleep at night?

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