PHOTO: Democratic candidate Phil Bredesen met with several Williamson County women at The Factory at Franklin on Wednesday, June 13, 2018, to discuss health care issues. / Brooke Wanser


A group of 16 women gathered inside the Heritage Room at The Factory Wednesday to discuss healthcare issues with U.S. Senate Democratic candidate Phil Bredesen.

Bredesen, the former state governor and mayor of Nashville, is running against Republican opponent and current U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn for the retiring Bob Corker’s seat.

Bredesen has hosted two other roundtables in Sumner County and Rutherford County, seeking voter input.

Similarly, on Wednesday during the lunch hour, he listened to a diverse group of women’s stories about their familial struggles with health care coverage, in a setting that resembled a group therapy session.

Bredesen began his health career with pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle in 1971; in 1975, he was recruited to Nashville by the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), before leaving to found insurance company HealthAmerica Corp. in 1980.

At the brown bag lunch, Bredesen remained largely quiet on his own opinions, instead inquiring about each woman’s experience with healthcare in the state.

The women were brought together by Waste Tech Services owner and founder Ann Johnson, who has her own health concerns: her twin sister is a heroin addict whose daughters are also addicted. Her twin’s addiction started with pain medication after back surgery.

“People don’t need so much access to these pain medications,” Johnson said.

Johnson also said there is a lack of understanding about how people become addicted. “It is simply because they have stripped every single endorphin that their body makes naturally and they physically cannot function,” she said.

“What’s different from opioids is they’re so potent,” Bredesen said. “Not many people are going to become alcoholics from three or four drinks.”

The women agreed it was a quandary, with many not wanting to take pain medication after serious surgeries.

Elizabeth Crook, the founder and CEO of Orchard Advisors in Nashville, described her husband’s battle with prostate cancer, admitting she was worried for others with less adequate healthcare.

“What I’m concerned about is prenatal care and pediatric care and people with chronic illness,” Crook said. “When I see so much money being poured into us, without any use, money just can’t stretch that far. We have to say, ‘What’s happening to the rest of society?’” she said. “We can’t just say ‘What’s good for me and mine?’”

“People end up having to play this game where they have to change policies,” Mary Murphy added. “It’s a very difficult, intricate web.”

Sabrina Garrett, a young, single mother, explained the difficulties for young, working women in getting affordable healthcare.

According to U.S. Census data, fewer than 44 percent of Tennesseans who are insured receive that coverage from an employer.

“I work with other women like myself who just don’t get insurance,” she said.

Another woman said when she had her first child, her healthcare didn’t cover a $360 pump for her to express milk to breastfeed.

By the time she had her third child, however, she had switched to Cigna, which did cover the pump. “It was a huge relief,” she said, pointing out the benefit she saw of breastfeeding to the environment, as well as for her and her children.

Ideological divide?

“I’m sitting here in Franklin, Tennessee,” Bredesen said at the end. “This is probably a pretty conservative group.” Several women nodded in agreement.

“Even though healthcare is an ideological issue, when I finished up each one of these, I’d be hard pressed to tell who’s the liberal and who’s the conservative around the table,” he said.

Johnson then asked which women identified as Republicans. About half raised their hands.

“We have more in common than we have different,” one woman chimed in. The rest nodded in agreement.

Roundtables and leaning into the female vote

“In talking to people, they tend to be the ones who are most interested in the health care subjects,” Bredesen said of women voters.

As a practical matter, Bredesen added, “women are going to be important in this election, so it behooves me to pay attention to what’s on their minds. Suburban women may well be the tipping point in this election.”

He said he plans to host more informal sit downs in other suburban counties throughout the campaign cycle.

Regardless of its reputation as a Republican stronghold, Bredesen said he will not kowtow to the party lines.

“I’m clearly getting people to cross over party lines, obviously I need to. In 2006, I certainly did,” he said.

In the 2006 gubernatorial election, he won the majority of the vote in all 95 Tennessee counties.

Interestingly, Williamson was the only county in the state not to back Trump in the 2016 GOP primary.

“I’m not going to win Williamson County,” Bredesen admitted, “but I think I will do just fine here.”