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March 28 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

 

Haslam Proposes ‘Tennessee Plan’ to Reform Health Care (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today unveiled his plan to pursue real health care reform in the state. Haslam announced that he will not expand TennCare rolls under the Affordable Care Act but instead is working to leverage the available federal dollars to purchase private health insurance for Tennesseans who would not otherwise have access to coverage. 

Haslam opts for ‘third way’ over Medicaid expansion (Nashville Biz Journal)

Tennessee will pursue “a third way” to provide additional coverage to Tennesseans, choosing not to expand its Medicaid program for now, Gov. Bill Haslam announced this week. Haslam said he is pursuing a plan that will use federal dollars to help those newly eligible for Medicaid to join private insurance plans through a health exchange. The plan, which would require approval from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is similar to one being considered in Arkansas and Ohio. Until Haslam receives assurances on certain aspects of his plan from HHS, he will not ask the General Assembly for approval to accept the Medicaid expansion federal funds. 

Haslam Rejects Federal Dollars This Year, Offers ‘Third Option’ on Medicaid (TNR)

Gov. Bill Haslam announced the state will not expand TennCare this year as called for by the federal health care law. The governor instead outlined what he called “a third option” for helping Tennesseans get coverage. Haslam said neither a flat-out refusal to enlarge TennCare based on problems with the law nor an open-armed embrace – “expanding a broken system” – was the right path for Tennessee. Under Haslam’s proposal, which he says the federal government will not agree to, payments to health care providers would be based on quality of care rather than just volume of services provided, and patients would have co-pays “so the user has some skin in the game when it comes to health care incentives.”

Haslam begs off Medicaid expansion (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Haslam announced Wednesday that a breakdown in negotiations with the federal government means that he won’t expand the state’s Medicaid program, a decision that will cost Tennessee billions of dollars in federal money and keep 140,000 uninsured Tennesseans from obtaining free coverage. Haslam told a joint session of the General Assembly that he tried to get approval for a “Tennessee Plan,” in which the state would accept the federal money to subsidize private insurance. But he was unable to get the proposal OK’d before his final amendments to the state’s annual spending plan came due.  

Haslam rejects TennCare expansion under Affordable Care Act (C. Paper/Zelinski)

Gov. Bill Haslam is rejecting the federal government’s offer to pay for more people to receive Tennessee health care coverage on the state’s TennCare program but said he is instead researching a third alternative. The option, which he said he is still working on, would use the federal dollars to buy private health insurance for some 175,000 low-income people, complete with co-pays. “This isn’t the end of the story,” Haslam told reporters after breaking the news before a joint-session of the General Assembly that he would reject federal funds to expand TennCare right now.

Haslam says Medicaid expansion will not be included in budget (M. Biz Journal)

In an address to the General Assembly in Nashville Wednesday morning, Gov. Bill Haslam recommended against the state expanding its Medicaid rolls under the auspices of the federal Affordable Care Act and said an expansion would not be in the state budget. “Pouring money into a broken system only perpetuates its inefficiencies,” Haslam said, quoting words first spoken in 2009 by President Barack Obama.

Haslam gives qualified ‘no’ on TennCare expansion (Tennessean/Sisk, Wilemon)

Gov. Bill Haslam rejected an estimated $1 billion a year from the federal government to expand TennCare to 180,000 Tennesseans, saying he wanted to bargain for a better deal that would ensure the state won’t have to shoulder that cost later down the road. Haslam said in a speech this morning to the state legislature that he wants to pursue a “Tennessee plan” for expanding health care coverage to more of the uninsured. But the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has not signed off on it.

Haslam won’t expand insurance for poor (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is blaming the Obama administration for his Wednesday decision not to expand Tennessee’s Medicaid program, saying he won’t proceed unless federal officials let him implement “real health care reform.” Haslam told a joint session of the General Assembly that he sought approval of his “Tennessee Plan” but was largely unable to get clear answers from U.S. Health and Human Services officials.

Gov. Bill Haslam rejects federal expansion of Medicaid (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

Gov. Bill Haslam told the General Assembly today that he is rejecting an expansion of Medicaid for now because the federal government has not agreed to some aspects of a “Tennessee plan” that involves using federal money to buy private insurance. “A pure expansion of medicaid, expanding a broken system, doesn’t work,” said Haslam, contending he wants to use federal money to buy private insurance akin to the approach being tried in Arkansas.

Haslam Says No to Medicaid Expansion, Announces Stopgap (Memphis Flyer)

After months of delaying his answer on whether to accept an expansion of TennCare, the state’s version of Medicaid, with funds provided by the Affordable Care Act, Governor Bill Haslam finally had something to say on the issue Wednesday, and it was a very hedged No. Haslam first spoke at length to a joint morning session of the General Assembly, unveiling what he called “the ‘Tennessee Plan’ for Health Care Reform. He then retired to the conference room of his Capitol office, where he faced questions from reporters in shifts — dealing with print reporters first, then members of the broadcast media.

Haslam Rejects Medicaid Expansion (Memphis Daily News)

Tennessee will not accept an expansion of Medicaid funding under the Affordable Care Act, Gov. Bill Haslam announced Wednesday, March 27, to a joint session of the state’s General Assembly. But Haslam also told legislators he is pursuing a “third option” between acceptance and rejection of the funding that would use the federal funding to allow uninsured Tennesseans eligible for TennCare, the state’s version of Medicaid, to buy private health insurance.

Haslam will not expand Medicaid (Jackson Sun)

The news spread across Tennessee in a matter of seconds after Gov. Bill Haslam announced he would not expand the state’s Medicaid rolls, turning down billions of dollars the federal government offered to help extend free coverage to 140,000 uninsured Tennesseans. Haslam told a joint session of the General Assembly on Wednesday that he tried to get approval for a “Tennessee Plan,” in which the state would accept the federal money to instead subsidize private insurance for those who would not otherwise have access to coverage.

Gov. Bill Haslam says no to TennCare expansion (Nooga)

Gov. Bill Haslam announced Wednesday that he would not recommend that Tennessee accept federal dollars for expanding TennCare, the state’s medical assistance program for low-income residents. The governor’s announcement was met with applause by a joint session of the General Assembly.

 

Haslam Refuses Yes or No on Medicaid Expansion (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Governor Bill Haslam may have muddied the waters more than anything else with his much-anticipated decision on whether to expand the state’s Medicaid program. He said neither “yes” nor “no,” calling instead for a “third way.” Haslam revealed Wednesday morning that he has been working for months on a “Tennessee Plan.” It would divert the federal money meant for a Medicaid expansion – $1.4 billion next year – to help people pay for private insurance.

TN Lawmakers Toe Party Lines on Haslam’s Medicaid Expansion Decision (TNR)

Reaction from state lawmakers was mixed and decidedly partisan Wednesday to Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision not to pursue a federally funded Medicaid expansion program for Tennessee this year. Haslam made the much-anticipated announcement during a special joint session of the state General Assembly. While it appeared relatively unlikely that the governor, a Republican and outspoken critic of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, would embrace the federal program over staunch opposition from within his own party, Haslam nonetheless seemed to surprise the gathered lawmakers by shying away from an outright rejection.

Providers face large task in Haslam’s Medicaid proposal (Nashville Biz Journal)

What role do hospitals and providers play in Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed route to Medicaid expansion? A big one, it turns out. The plan, which requires approval from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and eventually the state Legislature, sounds similar to those being proposed in Arkansas and Ohio.

Nashville hospital industry reacts to Haslam’s Medicaid decision (NBJ)

Hospitals have been one of the biggest proponents of Medicaid expansion, arguing they gave up the most under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In announcing his decision not to expand the state’s Medicaid rolls, and instead pursue a plan that would use federal dollars to buy private health insurance, Gov. Bill Haslam cited the hospital industry’s willingness to work with his administration.

TN hospitals, insurers hope Gov. Bill Haslam’s Medicaid plan pays off (TN/Ward)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision to continue pushing for a better deal on Medicaid expansion drew mixed reactions from key players in Nashville’s health care industry Wednesday. Hospitals breathed a sigh of relief at not losing out entirely on the possibility that 175,000 more Tennesseans could be covered by health insurance. Insurance carriers, meanwhile, liked the idea of giving those neediest residents subsidies to buy that coverage on the private market.

Groups ‘disappointed’ by Haslam’s expansion decision (News-Sentinel/Nelson)

State groups who have advocated for Tennessee to expand the Medicaid class expressed “disappointment,” but not surprise, when Gov. Bill Haslam announced Wednesday that he would not expand TennCare under the Affordable Care Act. “To say that we are disappointed would be an understatement,” said Brad Palmertree, interim executive director of the consumer advocacy nonprofit Tennessee Health Care Campaign.  

Haslam decision fuels debate in Memphis (CA/Risher, Dowd, Bailey)

Home to the state’s largest concentration of poor families, Memphis stood to pull in millions of federal healthcare dollars if Tennessee sided with the Medicaid expansion proposed by President Barack Obama. But Gov. Bill Haslam revealed his opposition to the federal plan on Wednesday. Now, medical and insurance executives in the city and state are waiting to see just how Haslam goes about insuring the poor under his own alternative plan taking shape in Nashville. “We’re wide open,” said Bill Gracey, president of insurer BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.  

Tennesseans without insurance take care into own hands (Tennessean/Wilemon)

Lucy Maynard cried for two hours in a borrowed home at the dead-end street of a trailer park in Old Hickory after watching Gov. Bill Haslam announce that Medicaid wouldn’t be expanded in Tennessee. Now she figures she’ll have to stick with a home remedy for her health care plan. “I eat aspirin,” she said. “That’s all I get is a cheap bottle of aspirins.”She suffers from the pain of an old injury and the nagging depression that comes with growing older and being poor. At age 59, she’s too young for Medicare but feels too broken for anyone to offer her a job with health benefits.  

Historic York Institute in Danger of Funding Cut Once Again (WPLN-Radio Nash)

Governor Bill Haslam has pulled back from a proposal to study the future of the York Institute, started by WWI hero Alvin C. York. Supporters of the Fentress County high school saw it as another attempt to phase out state funding. York Institute is one of just a handful of schools relying solely on the state. Fentress County school board chairman Gary Tinch – and dozens of others from the community – crowded a legislative committee hearing this week.

Charter authorizer bill shifts focus to largest TN cities (Tennessean/Garrison)

Controversial legislation that would create a new state panel that could authorize charter schools might take on a new form to target Tennessee’s largest cities, including Nashville. An amendment to House Bill 702, sponsored by Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, would give a nine-member panel authority to approve charters on appeal only in counties deemed “priority” under state law for being in the state’s bottom 5 percent in performance. It would therefore narrow the bill, previously applicable to all 95 counties, to Davidson, Shelby, Knox, Hamilton and Hardeman counties.  

Gardenhire bill on charter schools fails in committee (Times Free-Press/Sher)

A bill from Sen. Todd Gardenhire that would let for-profit companies run and manage public charter schools failed to make the grade in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. The bill failed, getting just two votes, including the Chattanooga Republican lawmaker’s own vote, while one colleague said no and three others abstained. Gardenhire earlier told the panel the bill is intended to help charter schools, which are run by nonprofit groups but funded with tax dollars. Often, they are started by parents, teachers, churches or other groups.  

For-Profit Charter Push Flops in State Senate (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

For-profit charter schools have been trying to make inroads in Tennessee. But a bill allowing investor-owned firms to manage day-to-day operations was rejected in the Senate Education Committee Wednesday. Even though the legislature has been friendly to for-profits in other fields such as virtual education, the state has required charter schools to be run by non-profits. The number of these private schools that take public money has been growing each year, now that a cap has been removed.

Bill on conservatorships moves forward in legislature (Tennessean/Wilemon)

A bill that rewrites the state law governing conservatorships won approval Wednesday from the House Civil Justice Subcommittee. The state Senate approved the measure unanimously earlier this week and it now goes to the full Civil Justice Committee. Under the bill uniform procedures would be established for placing someone in a conservatorship on an emergency basis. A person being placed under the emergency rules would have to be notified within 48 hours of the action and a hearing would have to take place within five days.

Bill Would Let Cities Form Own School Systems (Associated Press)

Legislation that would allow cities to form their own school systems is advancing in the Senate. The measure sponsored by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville unanimously passed the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. The proposal would lift a 1998 ban that forbids municipalities from starting their own school systems. The measure would benefit six Memphis suburbs seeking to bypass a merger of the Shelby County and Memphis school districts and run their own schools.

College Nondiscrimination Ban Headed to Governor (Associated Press)

A proposal to bar public universities and colleges from implementing nondiscrimination policies for student groups is headed to the governor for his consideration. The measure unanimously passed the Senate 30-0 on Wednesday. It was approved in the House 75-21 earlier this month.The legislation does not include private institutions like Vanderbilt University – a provision that caused Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to veto last year’s version. The governor’s office says it’s OK with the current legislation.

Lawmakers Want to Decide US Senate Nominees (Associated Press)

The Republican and Democratic caucuses of the General Assembly would decide Tennessee’s nominees to the U.S. Senate under a bill headed for a vote in the state Senate. The Senate State and Local Government Committee voted 7-1 Tuesday to advance the measure without debate. The bill sponsored by Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains would replace the primary system used for deciding nominees. Niceley said the bill would return the state closer to the system used before 1913, when state lawmakers directly appointed U.S. senators.

Senate to hear bill to cut lawmaker allowances (Associated Press)

Legislation to eliminate hotel allowances for some Tennessee lawmakers is scheduled to be heard by the Senate on Thursday. The proposal sponsored by Republican Sen. Ferrell Haile of Gallatin would eliminate a $107-per-night hotel payment for the 33 legislators who live within 50 miles of the state Capitol. The legislation would continue to provide a $66 daily meals allowance for all lawmakers.The companion bill passed the House 71-15 earlier this month.

Bill to Prohibit Discussion of Gay Issues Dies (Associated Press)

A measure that would have forced schools to tell parents if their children have talked to a teacher or counselor about being gay has failed this session. The House version of that bill died in the House Education Subcommittee on Tuesday for lack of a second. The measure sought to prohibit classroom discussion of anything other than natural reproduction. The House sponsor, Republican Rep. John Ragan of Oak Ridge, had planned to amend the legislation to require principals or counselors to identify students who might be a potential threat, but he never got a chance to do so.  

Annexation plans in TN would require residents’ voice if bill passes (TN/Humbles)

A bill in the state legislature wants to give Tennessee property owners the right to vote on annexation when their homes and communities are at stake. Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, is sponsoring the annexation reform bill. Tennessee is one of three states that don’t require referendums when a city identifies land it wants to annex into its boundaries. “Name me anything else in America where your rights are so affected,” Carter said. “Taxes double, regulations are doubled and debt from a foreign entity are brought to you as a citizen, and there is nowhere to turn.’’  

Nashville firm behind local petition on distilling (TFP/Brogdon, Smith)

Joe Ledbetter has worked for months to build a Chattanooga Whiskey Co. distillery in the city’s Southside. But the local whiskey maker is afraid that a new group seeking to circumvent legislators ultimately could dash his dreams. “Let me be clear about this: We don’t know who the hell these people are,” Ledbetter said Wednesday of the upstart group, which calls itself Let Hamilton Distill. The group emerged last week with a well-funded effort to collect 14,000 signatures on a petition to force a countywide vote whether to allow distilleries in Hamilton County.  

Turner’s Political Role Honors His Lineage (Memphis Daily News)

State Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, sees a simple, biblical guidepost for the lopsided Republican majority in the state House. “To whom much is given, much is required,” said Brooks, the assistant majority leader. With a 70-28-1 “supermajority” in the House and a similar majority in the Senate, Republicans clearly have the power to enact the laws they want. Now, they must choose wisely, Brooks said. From his viewpoint, that involves moving toward a “leaner, more-efficient government,” with legislators working to reduce the “size and the footprint” of government in people’s lives.

Emissions tests stay Memphis-only, to go countywide after few years (CA/Charlie)

Although vehicle emissions-testing will remain confined to Memphis for the near future, state officials likely will expand the requirement to include all of Shelby County within the next couple of years, the Shelby County Commission was told Wednesday. However, there will be no countywide air-quality fee or tax increase to pay for inspections, the commissioners were advised. Appearing before the commission’s Conservation Committee, Chief Administrative Officer Harvey Kennedy said the county has agreed to let the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation take over the emissions-testing program.

Report: Tennessee personal income rising (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Do you feel like there’s more money in your pocket? Maybe there is. Personal income growth in Tennessee rose 3.9 percent in 2012, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. That was the 10th best state growth rate in the country and faster than neighboring states in the Southeast. Tennessee also performed better than the nation overall. Nationally “average state income growth slowed to 3.5 percent in 2012 from 5.2 percent in 2011, BEA reported Tuesday.

Arnold Engineering testing facility feels pains of sequester (TFP/Smith)

The steep budget cuts forced on the military by a federal sequester will knock the wind out of Tennessee’s aerospace sector. The defense spending cuts that are a part of the budget agreement hammered two years ago by Congress and President Barack Obama are now beginning to hit Tullahoma, Tenn. The budget changes will slash the military’s ability to test new airplane and aerospace engines, a situation that Arnold Air Force Base spokesman Mike Walden called “the new normal.” The cuts will hit the civilian work force the hardest, according to the prime contractor at the 40,000-acre Arnold Engineering Development Complex.

$170K available to help organic farmers in Tennessee (Associated Press)

Tennessee has $170,000 available for certified organic farmers and those transitioning to organic agriculture. The money is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Organic Initiative, which helps plan and implement conservation practices that allow their organic operations to be environmentally sustainable. Some of these practices include cover crops, nutrient and pest management and crop rotation. Acting State Conservationist John Rissler said in a USDA news release that implementing conservation practices will help producers meet the requirements of their USDA organic system plans and stay in compliance with the national organic program.

With Vouchers, States Shift Aid for Schools to Families (New York Times)

A growing number of lawmakers across the country are taking steps to redefine public education, shifting the debate from the classroom to the pocketbook. Instead of simply financing a traditional system of neighborhood schools, legislators and some governors are headed toward funneling public money directly to families, who would be free to choose the kind of schooling they believe is best for their children, be it public, charter, private, religious, online or at home. On Tuesday, after a legal fight, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the state’s voucher program as constitutional.

Report: DOE OK’d contractor salaries above market rates (News-Sentinel/Munger)

A federal inspection found that the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge office improperly approved executive salaries for its cleanup contractor that exceeded market rates and potentially cost the government more than $3.4 million at a time when every dollar is needed to carry out DOE’s missions. According to the report released Wednesday by DOE’s Office of Inspector General, the annual salaries for the top 10 executives at URS-CH2M Oak Ridge (UCOR) ranged from $229,250 to $360,000.

Hopson Takes Over Public Schools Leadership (Memphis Daily News)

Since Dorsey Hopson became general counsel for Memphis City Schools in 2008, he has experienced a whirlwind of change. The Memphis City Council cut funding to the school system triggering a landmark court case, city and county school systems have been on a fast and rocky path to a merger, and the countywide board ballooned to 23 members. And then Hopson found himself in January serving as the interim superintendent of Memphis City Schools. The changes began just days after Hopson took the general counsel’s job.

 

OPINION 

Times Editorial: Haslam rejects expanded Medicaid (Times Free-Press)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam could have decided Wednesday to make the sensible and humane decision to accept federal funding under the Affordable Care Act to expand Medcaid/TennCare to approximately 180,000 uninsured working-poor Tennesseans. Allowing these people, who earn between 100 percent and 138 percent of the national poverty level, access to Medicaid would not have added any new costs to the state for at least the next three years, and then the state would only have to pay a 10 percent match to keep the expansion intact. But Gov. Haslam didn’t make that decision.

 

Clay Bennett Political Cartoon: Indigent Care (Times Free-Press)

 

Charlie Daniel Political Cartoon: Homebrew (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

 

Editorial: Safety should be pharmacies’ top legislative goal (Tennessean)

Legislators are moving swiftly to open a loophole in state law so that the supply of compounded medicines in Tennessee will keep up with demand. It’s a notion that might have sounded more compelling before contaminated drugs from a Massachusetts compounding company caused an outbreak of fungal meningitis last year, killing 14 people and sickening more than 150 in Tennessee alone. At a time when the hope is that government will act decisively to ensure that medicines are more safe, instead it is our lawmakers who are focused on making medicine more plentiful. Medicines compounded according to individual prescriptions are at the center of this matter, because they are slower to produce.

Editorial: Bill to ban cameras in polling places a misguided idea (News-Sentinel)

Every election, news photographers will go to the polling places where candidates are casting their ballots. The political hopeful will emerge from the voting booth, smile and wave at supporters while photographers snap away. It is an Election Day tradition. News photographers no longer have the field to themselves. The proliferation of cellphone cameras has turned virtually everyone into a paparazzo. It seems that more Americans are taking photographs — and posting them online — than ever before. That doesn’t sit well with one unnamed election administrator in Tennessee, who apparently complained to state Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, calling picture-taking at precincts an inappropriate “distraction.”  

Frank Cagle: Megasite Fever (Metro Pulse)

Some months ago I wrote a column suggesting that East Tennessee needed to develop a megasite to compete with West Tennessee and duplicate Chattanooga’s efforts leading to the location of the Volkswagen plant. I suggested the old American Enka site at an exit off Interstate 81, east of Knoxville. The site has an existing sewer plant, it has all the utilities, it is on the interstate and, more importantly it has willing sellers. The plant itself is in receivership and could be purchased cheaply and the state could help with any environmental remediation for the brownfield site. Since then, the Jefferson County Chamber has come forward to propose creating a megasite at another I-81 exit.

Guest columnist: Other states’ solar plans look brighter than TVA’s (Tennessean)

Georgia Power started its new Advanced Solar Initiative on March 1. Compared to what’s happening in the Tennessee Valley, “advanced” is the right word. What’s the right word to characterize TVA’s support for solar? The Tennessee Valley Authority, which runs the Green Power Providers (GPP) program in Tennessee and parts of six other states for small renewable energy projects (up to 50 kilowatts), has a cap of 7.5 megawatts for 2013. Its Renewable Standard Offer-Solar Solutions Initiative for projects up to 1 megawatt has a cap of 10 megawatts.

Editorial: County Commission should heed call to delay expansion (C. Appeal)

The Shelby County Commission’s move to increase the number of Shelby County unified school board members from seven to 13 was premature, given the uncertainty about whether the county’s suburban municipalities will create their own school districts. The school board Tuesday night adopted a resolution asking the special master U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays appointed to oversee the merger of city and county schools and the general counsel for Shelby County Schools to negotiate an agreement with parties in the schools merger lawsuit to postpone expansion of the board until 2014 on the basis of the county general election.

 

Note: The digest will resume Saturday, March 30th.

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