On Monday, Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Haslam outlined his plan to expand Obamacare. According to The Tennessean, he has branded the plan Insure Tennessee and dressed it in states’ rights rhetoric, claiming that the plan, which he says qualifies for federal funding under the Affordable Care Act, is an alternative to expanding Medicaid. WATE-TV 6 quoted a press release by Haslam in which he said, “This plan leverages federal dollars to provide health care coverage to more Tennesseans, to give people a choice in their coverage, and to address the cost of health care, better health outcomes and personal responsibility.”
Haslam announced that he would push for the policy in a special legislative session after the 109th General Assembly takes over in January. Tennessee’s legislature features a strong Republican majority.
The Tennessean published an estimate by the Kaiser Family Foundation which predicts that Insure Tennessee could result in over 160,000 additional Tennesseans qualifying for federal funds under Obamacare. Conservative critics in the state have pointed out the fact that federal funds for the program decline in future years, meaning the cost of the expansion could begin to leak into the state budget. Tennessee already has a state-run healthcare program called TennCare, which has been plagued by administrative failures of late, as thousands of Tennesseans found themselves stuck in a back log of applications earlier this year.
Insure Tennessee would expand the Affordable Care Act to low-income Tennesseans through a program called the Healthy Incentives Plan, which would be serviced through TennCare. Haslam’s health care overhaul would also include a program called the Volunteer Plan which would grant a voucher that qualified participants could use to pay for healthcare plans offered by their employers. It is not yet clear whether Haslam’s program would subject Tennesseans to Obamacare’s individual mandate, as low-income individuals in the state can currently claim an exemption to the mandate due to the state’s non-participation in the health care law’s Medicaid expansion.
Tennessee’s Democratic legislators praised the plan, as did Republican senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. Said Corker in comments to The Tennessean, “I’m pleased our state was able to adopt a solution that will build off of the innovative ways we deliver quality health care.”
In Tennessee’s state-level politics, Haslam is widely viewed as an establishment figure within the GOP, along with Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell. Earlier this month, Republican Representative Rick Womick led an unsuccessful conservative challenge against Beth Harwell for speaker. Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey told The Tennessean last Thursday, “I think if the governor can truly revamp the way our Medicaid is run and TennCare is run, then I think he may be able to sell that to the legislature.”