Haslam promises Medicaid expansion decision by end of legislative session

Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 4:00pm

Gov. Bill Haslam speaks to reporters in downtown Nashville on Thursday. (Andrea Zelinski/SouthComm)


Gov. Bill Haslam said he plans to come up with a decision on whether the state should expand its Medicaid program before lawmakers go home for the year.

The move could further stifle plans by Republicans in the legislature who are already lining up to legally ban the governor from expanding to the program, an option left open under the federal Affordable Care Act.

“Some people feel really strongly like we shouldn’t expand Medicaid and so they would like to go ahead and pass that. I personally think we’re better off to do our homework first,” Haslam told reporters after speaking at a Tennessee Press Association luncheon downtown Thursday.

Twenty-six Republicans in the House and 16 in the Senate have signed up as co-sponsors of the legislation to ban a Medicaid expansion under “Obamacare,” Senate Bill 804. A bill would need at least 51 votes in the House and 17 in the Senate to pass, plus the governor’s approval.

Both House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Thursday they want to slow down efforts to outright ban an expansion to give the governor time to decide what he wants to do. Ramsey said the Senate version of the bill has been taken off notice for a hearing and Harwell said her chamber will take a wait and see approach.

Haslam told reporters Thursday said his chief concern is to evaluate the effect his decision would have on hospitals, health coverage for Tennesseans, and what flexibility the state can get out of the federal government.

The federal government has agreed to pay 100 percent of the costs for the expansion for three years, then scale back funding to 90 percent. Lawmakers opposed to the expansion argue there’s no guarantee the federal government will keep its financial promises and say they don’t want to put Tennessee in a position to add new people to the TennCare rolls only to kick them off a few years later.

Proponents of expanding the program, including Democrats, say hospitals would risk layoffs, rural hospitals could face closure if Haslam decides against expansion, and instead the state should provide health coverage to more people.

“We believe he understands that this makes financial sense and that we have a moral obligation to the 330,000 Tennesseans who would be covered if we expand Medicaid,” said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh.

If the governor decides to go along with an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program providing health coverage for low-income people, he would need legislative approval to build the incoming federal funds into the budget.

8 Comments on this post:

By: amoobrasil on 2/8/13 at 9:15

Covering people without coverage to pay for access to health care is a no-brainer. We incur less cost resulting from desperate people resorting to the ER and we build a healthier citizenry. Acquiring such coverage for three years at no cost to the Tennessee taxpayer and at a cost of only 10% afterwards can be opposed not on reason or on verifiable fact, but only on visceral grounds, i.e., a gut-level hate of Obama and anything tagged as "liberal".

"Conservatives" support no practical polices that support a constructive vision for our communities and our nation; rather than demand access to health care for everyone at half the per-capita cost we pay now (easily accomplished by making Medicare available from birth)--and generate new jobs in the health sector--, they simply lust to punish people who cannot find work or whose income is insufficient to pay for housing and food. The fact that many of these people are war veterans is a matter of indifference to them. They invent myths, like the Welfare Queen, to justify their opposition to Jesus' command to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and minister to the infirm. They are political vandals, finding pleasure only in taking their resentment out on scapegoats incapable of speaking for themselves.

Yet the GOP is eager to pander to this sentiment, using it to slip in legislation that transfers taxpayer money from public education, medical-assistance outreach, public housing, small farmers, etc., to Big Business, Big Banking, Agribusinesses, hedge funds that gamble with our life savings and pensions, and whoever else can fund political campaigns or intimidate legislators seeking to stand up for the wage earner, the small farmer, the small businessman, and the consumer.

I was once a conservative. But how can I be THIS kind of "conservative"?

By: Worriedman on 2/8/13 at 9:23

So three people get to gainsay the entire Legislature? Why bother to spend all that money on office space and per diem for 33 Senators and 99 representatives, and all their staff? We hear so much about limiting Government from these people, why not just cut to the chase and only have these three? Seems that the two Speakers and the Governor make all the decisions anyway, why bother with the charade? Would it not save a lot of taxpayer money, (and the results would be the same)?

By: pswindle on 2/8/13 at 9:47

Haslam and his body of two will not do anything if comes from this President. He does not care if the poor has medical coverage. His ideas on so many fronts are or will help make TN a laughting stock or maybe help bring this great state to its knees.

By: James Arthur on 2/8/13 at 1:34

@amoo, on average, a Medicare recipient receives $3 in benefits for every dollar they paid in.

So, as a mathematical fact, your idea for universal Medicare doesn't work.

The Obamacare Medicaid expansion is a terrible deal for the state. The article above misses several important facts:

1. Currently, only 60% of those eligible for TennCare are actually enrolled. (Many times because they get coverage thru work, from a spouse, etc.) Obamacare actively recruits, signs up--but does NOT pay for--that extra 40% onto TennCare. Those people are added at the existing Federal/State reimbursement ratio, to a program that's already a massive burden. So, it'll boost the cost of TennCare enormously.

2. The feds are broke. They're promising to support people made newly eligible by Obamacare at a high level, but with money they don't have. Future federal cuts are unavoidable, at which point TN will be left holding the bag.

3. There's a Maintenance of Effort requirement in Obamacare. That says the state can never go back, even if the circumstances are desperate.

4. Universal TennCare? That's not fair to the people who depend on it.

By: joe41 on 2/10/13 at 10:32

Our legislature is a national joke. We are focused on the wrong issues and we are wasting money to have these jerks spending time in Nashville doing the bidding on the tea party. Fire them all as we would be better not having any legislators.


By: Ask01 on 2/10/13 at 1:53

Let's have a round of applause for our tap dancing governor, folks.

By: joe41 on 2/11/13 at 10:39

Ask01, you are one doing the dance. Is it voodoo?

By: Ask01 on 2/13/13 at 4:53

If I was, joe41, you would be the first to know.

I do agree with you though. The Tennessee legislature is a national joke. The only problem is they are taking the rest of us with them on their merry way to the nether regions.

Governor Haslam has so far, in my opinion at least, demonstrated the backbone of a jellyfish. His ineffective, indecisive leadership, allowing the asylum inmates to run amok on Capitol Hill, will drive Tennessee further towards medieval culture.