Sen. Lamar Alexander's office said that healthcare takes priority over the confirmation process of the new labor secretary.
As chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions, Alexander pushed back a scheduled confirmation hearing for prospective labor secretary Alexander Acosta in order to attend a campaign rally with President Donald J. Trump. An Alexander spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon that the senator saw the Wednesday appearance as a chance to discuss healthcare policy with Trump.
"Tennessee is ground zero for the collapse of Obamacare and Chairman Alexander will be in Tennessee with the president to talk about their critical work to rescue Tennesseans trapped in the collapsing system, and to replace that collapsing system," the spokesman said.
Knoxville has witnessed multiple insurance companies withdraw from the health care exchanges established after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. The state's largest insurer, BlueCross BlueShield, announced in September it would pull out of insurance exchanges Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis, the state's three largest cities, beginning in 2017. The insurer, which covered 130,000 people in those regions, said that it could no longer afford to participate in Obamacare due to mounting losses.
Premiums rose in Tennessee by 63 percent in 2017, the third-highest increase in the nation, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The move left Knoxville residents with just one insurer in the Obamacare program, Humana, during the 2017 open enrollment period that began in November. In February, Humana announced that it could no longer afford to cover the Knoxville region and would drop Obamacare coverage in 2018, potentially leaving 40,000 residents without insurance.
Trump will be in Knoxville on Wednesday to celebrate the 250th birthday of populist Democratic President Andrew Jackson and attend an evening rally. Alexander decided to meet with the president in order to inform him about the dramatic effects that Obamacare has had on his constituents.
"The Knoxville market is one of the worst in the country," Alexander's spokesman said. "Tennessee is the main site of the collapse of the individual insurance market under Obamacare."
Several business groups and labor watchdogs have expressed concerns about pushing back the Acosta hearing, especially after multiple postponements derailed the nomination of Trump's first choice for labor secretary, Andy Puzder.
Union activists waged a fiery campaign against Puzder, a fast food CEO, which included digging up old—and since-rescinded—allegations of domestic abuse and filing unfair labor practice complaints against his company, CKE Restaurants. The movement united Democrats and caused several Republicans to publicly waver before Puzder withdrew his nomination in February.
Acosta has not faced nearly as much opposition and has been endorsed by several labor unions, but observers worry that any delays could potentially hurt Acosta's chances of rolling back several of President Obama's more controversial labor regulations.
"Every delay in naming and confirming qualified nominees to the NLRB and Labor Department is a concern," National Right to Work Committee spokesman Patrick Semmens told the Washington Free Beacon on Monday. "Overturning the Obama administration's pro-forced unionism policies is more like turning a supertanker than pressing a button, but that needed course adjustment cannot even begin until the vacancies begin to be filled."
Acosta, a law school dean who has been confirmed by the Senate for three previous federal posts, is expected to be confirmed despite the delays. His confirmation hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, March 22 and Alexander's office expects a committee vote on the nomination the following week.