No plush leather chairs or pricey paintings here. Instead, the clients in this law office - among them the most ill among Tennessees poor - walk over nondescript commercial-grade carpet before sitting down to wait in run-of-the-mill furniture. On one wall large letters read, "What a difference the LAW makes," while another wall displays a collection of downloaded images of suffragettes, Depression-era poor, protesters, and others in need of a fair shake in life.
The modest facilities of the Tennessee Justice Center would still be an apt metaphor for an obscure firm of crusading lawyers were it not for one problem: The agency has become the state governments biggest headache. Tennessees novel attempt to go beyond the mandates of Medicaid - TennCare - is busting the budget, and TJC has played a key role in representing TennCare recipients in controversies with the state.
In Januarys announcement of the governors proposals for slashing TennCare, managed-care-tycoon-turned-Democratic-governor Phil Bredesen addressed himself directly to the people the state would regretfully "disenroll," with more than 323,000 adult Tennesseans likely to lose coverage. "We dont remotely have the money to continue on the current path," the governor said. "The lawyers who have purported to represent you over the years are living in a fairyland."
But TJC executive director Gordon Bonnyman Jr. believes the cuts will kill. With proposals limiting the number of prescriptions patients can receive, some of Tennessees most ill will go without urgently needed medicines, Bonnyman fears. The TJC director says it is not unusual for TennCare recipients to have five or more chronic illnesses requiring multiple medications.