KINGSPORT - Northeast Tennessee lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle expressed support for CoverTN on Friday.
And one of those lawmakers, state Rep. Kent Williams, R-Elizabethton, said he will take advantage of the program for employees of his small business.
Gov. Phil Bredesen, who spearheaded the program through the General Assembly, formally kicked it off at Holston Valley Medical Center, part of the Wellmont Health System that is participating in the program.
"This is a very, very important day for Tennessee," said state Rep. Nathan Vaughn, D-Kings- port and an insurance agent. "It is definitely part of the solution."
Vaughn lauded the program as innovative and thanked Wellmont for agreeing to participate. while Williams said that as a small business owner he will participate. Under the program, the business, employee and state pay one-third of the premiums that run an average of $50 each or $150 a month.
"I will have five employees that will qualify for CoverTN and in their adult lives haven't had any coverage," said Williams, who owns a restaurant and farms in Carter County.
State Reps. Eddie Yokley, D-Greeneville, and Mike Harrison, R-Sneedville, also spoke for the program, with Harrison saying his district is among the worst for having the highest percentage of uninsured, many disenrolled from the state TennCare program for the Medicaid eligible, uninsured and uninsurable.
"He (Bredesen) thinks East Tennessee is as important as West Tennessee," said state Rep. Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, House Minority Leader Jason Mumpower, R-Bristol, and state Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, did not attend the news conference.
Bredesen said bipartisan support was crucial to approval of the program, which he called an "island of excellence" in the United States and a good start to bringing health care to the uninsured.