Q&A: Permobil’s Darren Jernigan on a tough election

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – This election hasn’t been easy on anyone, even on those who won. “I was one of the few democrats that survived in Tennessee,” said Darren Jernigan, director of government affairs at Permobil, who is about to start his third term as a state representative. “(The elections) are every two years—it’s wearing me out.” HME News recently spoke with Jernigan about “serving two masters” and what stakeholders should expect in the new political climate.  

HME News: How do you balance Permobil and public service?

Darren Jernigan: I cloned myself (laughs). We added more staff at Permobil to help me with government affairs, but Permobil is very generous to let me spend time with the legislature. The most difficult thing for me is, when I do something, I want to do it well and the “no one can serve two masters” cliché is a cliché for a reason. To keep up with both, sometimes I have to work on Permobil matters when I’m in the legislature, and sometimes at Permobil I have to work on legislative matters—they just cross over. Obviously, if I’m at Permobil and there’s an earthquake in my district, they’re going to let me go (and vice versa).

HME: What’s on your to-do list this year related to mobility issues?

Jernigan: We’re only allowed 15 bills apiece and I have a wide range of topics other than just mobility. However, NCART wants to see separate benefit recognition legislation introduced during this session. I’m not sure who’s going to introduce the bill. Since I work for Permobil, it might be a conflict. I would be able to vote for it; I just probably couldn’t champion it.

HME: What would you say is one of your biggest accomplishments so far?

Jernigan: Medicare doesn’t pay for power mobility devices used outside the home and last year we were able to eliminate the in-home rule in Tennessee. We were also able to get elevator seats off the exclusion list in the state. Medicare said, “We’re not going to pay for elevator seats—ever,” and that’s against federal law. There must be some kind of path people can go down based on medical necessity and evidence-based research.

HME: Where do you see access going in the current political climate? Should stakeholders/wheelchair users be concerned?

Jernigan: It depends on who Trump surrounds himself with and if there’s strong leadership. One positive thing: He said he doesn’t want to cut entitlements, meaning Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security; and he’s not going to touch Veterans Affairs, so that is good. We’re also a little bit encouraged that some of the remaining Republican leadership in the House and the Senate know about complex rehab and know about our issues. They’re aware of it; they’re in support.