After announcing a wellness plan getting people to eat better, exercise more and avoid tobacco products, Gov. Bill Haslam said he is still talking with federal officials about striking a deal offering more low-income people health care coverage.
Haslam said he is planning a trip to Washington, D.C., later this month to figure out whether they can come to an agreement on a way to offer more people care without expanding the state’s TennCare Medicaid program.
“We’re very serious about trying to see what the best long-term answer is for Tennessee,” Haslam said.
The goal of his D.C. visit will be “to have a sit-down, face-to-face, to say, ‘OK, here’s what we’d like to do.’ I wouldn’t call it a final proposal as much as a, ‘Now that we’ve crystallized the issues, lets figure out if we can get across the bridge.’ ”
After months of weighing his options, in March the governor choose to forego the federal government’s offer to cover the cost of expanding the state’s TennCare program to 175,000 people. The feds would cover the costs until scaling back to covering 90 percent by 2020. Haslam rejected that offer  because it would cost the state down the road, and instead suggested he would seek an alternative that would take advantage of the federal dollars by incorporating the private sector.
Haslam said he wanted to come to a conclusion by the end of the summer  on whether expanding care was possible. He said in July he was “discouraged” when the federal government issued the state 600-page set of new rules for states accepting federal help.
“But since then, we’ve continued to have good discussions. I’ll go up there sometime in late August and have what I hope is a very productive conversation,” he said.
Meanwhile, the governor is pitching a plan to encourage more healthy behaviors among Tennesseans after a study revealed Tennessee as one of three states where the youth obesity rates are growing, a statistic the governor called “sobering” and a reflection of the state’s culture.
Rick Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the newly formed Governor’s Foundation of Health and Wellness nonprofit, said the state spends $6 billion annually between the treatment and cure of behavior-based diseases and the economic impact from reduced productivity.
While part of the initiative is to reduce the number of people using tobacco products, Haslam said he would not, at this time, consider imposing higher taxes on tobacco to discourage smoking.