Gov. Bill Haslam tells the Times-Free Press that the “Volunteer Plan,” one part of his modified Medicaid expansion proposal, should be popular with both employers and their working poor employees. But he doesn’t know how many will sign up.
“Nobody’s done this before,” Haslam said in interviews with the Times Free Press about his Insure Tennessee proposal, a major part of which is built on the Volunteer Plan. The idea is for workers to use federally funded vouchers to participate in employers’ health plans.
But Haslam, a Republican, thinks the “market-driven” idea should prove attractive to the working poor as well as their bosses.
The employee/employer voucher component surprised some businesses and business groups, that are interested in more details.
Haslam said he sees the program being voluntary for employers.
“I don’t think we can force [employers] to be required to accept it,” Haslam said, but added he thinks employers would welcome it.
“I’m not certain why the business would say we’re OK with you paying for it, but we’re not OK with taking your money and a voucher, which is what it would be,” Haslam said. “From their standpoint it would actually tie their employee to them a little more.”
According to the administration’s calculations, the working poor are a substantial number of the estimated 200,000 low-income people who could qualify for Haslam’s proposed Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act.
…”We know that over half are working now,” the governor said. “… The arguments for doing it [offering vouchers] are that your employer’s plan is accepted more places than Medicaid is.”
Employer plans also generally provide better benefits, Haslam said.
Right now, many workers earning $8 or $9 an hour can’t afford health coverage offered by their employers, Haslam said. The vouchers would pay for premiums, copays and other out-of-pocket costs.
But many workers envision moving up the pay ladder over time. The Volunteer Plan, Haslam said, offers them an easier way of getting coverage with employers now, and they won’t later have to switch from TennCare to an employer’s plan as their incomes rise and they are no longer eligible for government assistance.