By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican lawmakers are building support for a plan to wait until the end of the year to take action on state requirements set by President Barack Obama’s federal health care law.
House Speaker Beth Harwell said Thursday that it would make sense to allow legal and political challenges to the federal health care law to play out before addressing how or whether to set up a state health insurance exchange.
“I think that’s prudent,” said Harwell, R-Nashville. “It is a wise course of action to wait, and if we have to take action as a state, come back into special session.”
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey first floated the idea of a post-election special session on health care in a speech to a Nashville business group in December.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has warned that failure to establish a state exchange by the beginning of next year would lead the federal government to create one for Tennessee. He has also raised concerns that a delay could cause to the state to lose federal money dedicated to establishing state exchanges.
The governor’s office did not immediate return a message seeking comment.
“Ultimately I think Obamacare is going to be kind of a dismal situation for the states,” Harwell said. “And I don’t know that there is a good way to handle it. But I defer to the judgment of the (Haslam) administration.”
Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin and chairman on the House Health Committee, said delaying the health insurance exchange is a move that “seems more logical to me every day.”
Casada said another option would be for the Legislature to grant the governor the power to establish and operate the exchange. He denied that the move would be designed to keep fellow Republicans from having to vote on creating a mechanism for a program they oppose.
“If I were to say, ‘I didn’t do it, I told the governor to do it,’ any smart person would say, ‘Glen, you gave it to the governor, you’re still responsible,'” he said.
Casada said giving the authority to the governor would avoid the need for the Legislature to review and tweak the exchange each time conditions change.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville agreed with handing over control to the governor.
“We need to give a good faith effort to make sure that Tennesseans are not left out or lose any funds because we were playing partisan games,” he said.
“So I think we should give him the authority to set this thing up.”