Haslam acknowledges he’ll need every Democrat’s vote on Medicaid expansion

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. β€” Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that he expects to need the votes of every Democrat in the Tennessee General Assembly to give his Medicaid proposal a chance of passage.

Haslam told reporters after a groundbreaking ceremony for Bridgestone’s new downtown Nashville headquarters that he expected to release full details of his proposal dubbed Insure Tennessee by Thursday.

The governor said he is well aware of grumbling among many in the GOP-controlled Legislature that they haven’t been given more details about the proposal to cover more than 200,000 low-income Tennesseans since it was first announced last month. But Haslam said his administration has been working to convert an oral agreement with federal officials into a written waiver proposal.

“Obviously, we’re hurrying as much as we can to get the waiver finished, we want to make certain the waiver is right,” he said. “Hopefully within 24 hours everybody will actually have the waiver and an executive summary on their desk.”

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh says Democrats are “favorably postured” to get behind Haslam’s proposal, but they also awaiting more details about the deal. Democrats hold 26 of 99 seats in the House, and five of 33 seats in the Senate.

“This is the first time he’s ever come forward and said he’s counting on Democrats, but that’s a good sign,” Fitzhugh said. “We’ve often said we want to work together on issues, and this is a huge issue for Tennesseans and we are going to do everything we can to make the process work.”

Haslam laughed when asked whether he confident that most lawmakers would get behind his proposal.

“No, everybody does not feel like they’re on board,” he said. “We knew up front that this would be a controversial proposal, and I think it’s up to us to make the case as to why this is the right thing to do for Tennessee.”

Haslam’s program would offer several options of coverage for individuals below 138 percent of the federal poverty level β€” which works out to $16,100 for an individual or $32,913 for a family of four. The proposal includes offering participants either health reimbursement accounts or vouchers to use in employer’s health insurance plan for premiums and other out-of-pocket expenses.

The proposal has been touted as a two-year pilot program in which hospitals have agreed to finance any expenses to the state above the amount available to the state under the Medicaid expansion proponent of President Barack Obama’s health care law.

If approved by lawmakers, Tennessee would become the 28th state plus Washington, D.C., to expand Medicaid under the health care law, and the 10th initiated by a Republican governor.

Haslam said he is still working with legislative leaders to determine the best time to call a special session alongside the 30-day public comment period on Medicaid proposal.

“We’ve worked on it forever to get it right,” Haslam said. “I hope people appreciate that and I think we have negotiated a really good deal for Tennessee.

“Obviously everybody has to dig into that and decide for themselves.”