Gov. Bill Haslam tells the Commercial Appeal about an election-day conversation with President Obama and the helpfulness of Sylvia Burwell during development of his Medicaid plans.
(Obama) offered his congratulations, and the conversation soon turned to a more substantive topic: Haslam’s months-long effort to reach a unique-to-Tennessee solution for accepting federal Medicaid dollars.
“If this is a football game, we’re on the five yard line,” Haslam said he told the president. “Sometimes, that last five yards are the hardest. And we might need your help to get over the finish line.”
Forty-one days later, Haslam got his touchdown.
That was when the governor unveiled Insure Tennessee, an alternative to straight Medicaid expansion that could provide health insurance to up to 200,000 Tennesseans who don’t already have it. It’s a two-year pilot program that will formally apply for a federal waiver shortly after the new year.
…Haslam touted the program in an hourlong meeting in Memphis Thursday with The Commercial Appeal’s editorial board. It was the product of months of negotiations with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, he said, that whittled down some 200 issues into “three or four” that were resolved in recent weeks.
Haslam praised HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, who “personally got involved” in the final weeks to shepherd Tennessee’s proposal to a tentative solution.
“I said, ‘here’s where we are, here’s our financial situation and our political situation. And here’s why we have to work these issues out,'” the governor said.
Haslam, who is the incoming chairman of the Republican Governors Association, downplayed the role that other GOP governors’ Medicaid expansion programs had in the process, at least in terms of giving political cover. (Haslam also downplayed the role of the Obama conversation in the ultimate conclusion.)
But other states’ successes and failures did help guide Tennessee to its final destination.
“As we saw other states get their approvals on things they’re proposing, we were seeing different things that would help go in the direction we were trying to go,” said Darin Gordon, a deputy commissioner in the state Department of Finance and Administration, who also oversees TennCare. “So we were getting greater clarity of the types of things that they were more open to — and the types of things, quite frankly, that they weren’t open to.”
Haslam said other states’ experiences “just became a little bit better road map for us.”