Health Care Problems Not Going Away, says Haslam

Meeting with reporters shortly after the most significant legislative defeat of his tenure, a disappointed Bill Haslam said the problems surrounding health care he sought to address with “Insure Tennessee” aren’t going away.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the state don’t have access to necessary care, he said. Furthermore, health care costs in Tennessee and across the country are “out of control,” the governor added.

“We haven’t done anything to address those two issues,” he said.

And while Haslam said he and his staff are still trying to process what went wrong with “Insure Tennessee,” he pledged that “you are going to see us continue to focus on trying to find a way” to tackle those problems.

On a 7-4 vote Monday, the Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee effectively killed the governor’s attempt to win the Legislature’s approval for “Insure Tennessee,” a plan his administration had negotiated with the federal government to draw down billions in funding to offer coverage for 300,000 or so residents.

The governor noted that he never thought it was going to be easy to get the Legislature to approve any kind of plan that would at the same time be agreeable to the Obama administration, which is holding the pursestrings to the Medicaid expansion dollars Tennessee was seeking under “Insure Tennessee.”

But the Haslm was hesitant to blame the “Insure Tennessee” defeat on anyone in particular, or any one facet of the political drama that’s unfolded over the past several days. As for why the plan never gained momentum, he said “different things for different people” were sticking points.

Many Republican lawmakers “just couldn’t quite get comfortable with the policy,” or couldn’t be convinced the federal government was trustworthy going forward, Haslam said.

“That was a hard hurdle to get over,” he said. “For other people, it was just, ‘I am just afraid this is Obamacare.’ And as much as we tied to show the difference as to why this is not, some people just couldn’t get past that hurdle.”

The governor also said it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to get any sort of concession from the Obama administration that could be used to prod reluctant lawmakers into go along with the plan later.

“It’s not in my nature just to give up, but I don’t really know what we’d do there,” he said. “We really did negotiate a deal with (the U.S. Health and Human Services) that, I think, went as far as they can do within the Affordable Care Act law that they have to deal with.

“We continue, obviously, to see ideas — Indiana’s plan and and other things — that we think could have been and were part of our plan,” Haslam continued. “But right now I don’t know what we would go to and ask them (that’s) different from what we got that they can do within the law. Also, we don’t like the law, and I don’t like the law either, but right now it is the law, so I don’t know what else we would go and ask them for.”