Gov. Bill Haslam said he should know this summer whether the state can strike a deal with the federal government over an alternative plan to offering health care coverage to more poor people.
Encouraged by ongoing talks with the federal Department of Health and Human Services and the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services about crafting a way to take advantage of federal dollars to cover the costs, Haslam said the key now is ensuring flexibility in the state’s program.
“I think if we hadn’t made real progress by this summer, I think it will show that we’re not going to, quite frankly,” Haslam told reporters after a Memorial Day ceremony at War Memorial Plaza Friday.
“I still feel like we’re making progress and they still signified a real willingness to work this out,” he said. “It’s not a question of lack of dialogue.”
A recent poll shows staunch opposition to expanding the state’s health care program for poor people is waning in Tennessee almost a year after the U.S. Supreme Court gave the states the option not to expand their Medicaid rolls under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
A Vanderbilt University survey of 813 registered voters  this month showed 33 percent are opposed to expanding Medicaid. The statistics represent a drop of 9 percentage points from last December’s poll and indicates a shift in attitudes toward extending the program, according to pollsters.
“I wasn’t totally surprised by it,” Haslam said of the results. “If more people could have health care coverage and it was something affordable and didn’t impact the state’s budget, I think most Tennesseans would say, ‘Yeah, we’d be interested in that.’ Like everything else, the issue’s in working that out in a way that works for us.”
Haslam said the administration is focused now on details that involve what the state’s program would look like for requiring co-pays on certain treatments for people at specific poverty levels, as well as specifics for health care providers.
The governor announced in March he would forgo a federally funded expansion  of the state’s TennCare program in lieu of researching an alternative that would extend health care coverage to 175,000 Tennesseans. If the governor pitches a program the legislature would approve, the program would sunset after a certain period of time. The legislature would then have discretion on whether to continue the program after federal dollars fall short of the total price tag.