By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Hospital Association, a key supporter of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s unsuccessful effort to expand Medicaid in the state, is planning a new push to pass the measure once this year’s presidential election is over.
The members of the hospital group had pledged to cover the entire $74 million state share of Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal, which would have drawn down $2.8 billion in federal Medicaid funds over two years.
But Republican lawmakers rejected Haslam’s plan last year amid fears that it was too closely linked to President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
THA President Craig Becker said the group is spending about $400,000 to found a nonprofit called Tennesseans for a Responsible Future that is aimed at gathering support for passing the measure once Obama leaves office next year.
“It really is to kind of offset some of the misconceptions and certainly to educate our legislators to what Insure Tennessee is and what it isn’t,” Becker said. “And what it isn’t is Obamacare.”
Haslam had spent 21 months talking with federal officials for a special deal for Tennessee that included market-based elements such as vouchers to buy private insurance, co-pays and assurances that the state could pull out of the deal if it ended up being more expensive than expected.
Becker said those elements are “out of the playbook of the Republicans,” and should help allay political fears among lawmakers. But supporters realize that legislative leaders don’t want another fight over the issue this year.
“You could bang your head against the wall and try to get it passed this year, when you know leadership is not with you,” he said.
Taking the year to work on educational efforts will also allow more time for the governor’s administration to negotiate a better deal for the stat, Becker said.
“This is a front-burner item for us. It’s not gone away, we’re not going dark,” Becker said. “But we also understand the political realities, and we’re going to abide by them and make the best of it.”
The new nonprofit is searching for an executive director and plans to hire two or three staffers to work in the field.