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Divine Intervention Sought to Encourage TN Medicaid Expansion

But highest powers in state politics probably not inclined to answer Obamacare-seekers’ prayers

A coalition of students, clergy and individuals took to Legislative Plaza Wednesday to pray, protest and sing gospel songs in support of expanding the Volunteer State’s Medicaid program to more Tennesseans of modest means.

The “Moral Movement for Health Care,” organized by Fisk University student Justin Jones, circled the plaza several times, praying for the Legislature as well as seeking God’s assistance in turning the hearts of conservative lawmakers.

A similar group also exists in North Carolina.

In an early February special session, the GOP supermajority-run General Assembly killed a proposal from Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to use federal Medicaid expansion dollars to provide “market-based” government-financed health insurance options to lower income Tennesseans not eligible for TennCare or Obamacare’s private-coverage subsidies.

Haslam told reporters earlier this week that while his administration is open to revisiting Insure Tennessee, he doesn’t anticipate pushing the matter to the forefront of political discussion absent clear indications the GOP-controlled Legislature is more amenable to passage than it showed in February.

“There has to be a path,” he said.

Haslam said he is in fact open to considering other politically viable policy ideas for enabling Medicaid expansion in Tennessee. But he tends also to believe his administration already “negotiated the very best deal that’s been done” among Republican-led states looking to develop unique arrangements with the Obama administration under which ACA Medicaid expansion funding can be drawn down.

“Everything that we could ask for we did, and we got everything, we think, in the end that they will give us,” he said.

A Democratic proposal still alive in the General Assembly proposes repealing the “Stop Obamacare Act,” guided to passage last year by Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown and Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin, that requires the Tennessee governor to win legislative approval prior to enacting any ACA-associated Medicaid expansion initiative. That barrier was imposed both as a barrier to Obamacare implementation and to prevent the sitting or a future governor from unilaterally encumbering state taxpayers with down-the-road TennCare cost increases.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville, who is sponsoring the repeal of the Kelsey-Durham legislation, told TNReport that in most states a governor has the power to “cooperate with the federal government” and make decisions to “get our tax dollars back” under plans like Insure Tennessee.

“I think we need to just get rid of this requirement and let Gov. Haslam go forward and bring Insure Tennessee into being,” Stewart said.

Stewart, said he anticipates bringing House Bill 1018 for a hearing next week in the House Health Subcommittee. Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro, also of Nashville, is sponsoring a similar measure that’s scheduled for a TennCare subcommittee review on Monday.

If either measure fails in committee, not at all an unlikely outcome given Democrats’ woeful lack of seats in both chambers, the chances of Medicaid expansion in 2015 will sink to nil.

Yarbro also had a pair of resolutions — SJR94 and SJR105 — each of which would authorize Haslam to expand Tennessee’s Medicaid program by different degrees, but neither have been put on notice for a hearing.

A Republican proposal to reform TennCare to possibly cover individuals up to 138 percent of the poverty rate was taken off notice today by freshman GOP Rep. Eddie Smith of Knoxville.

Smith told TNReport Wednesday that his intent with HB1271 was for the state to look at how to “request a block grant from the federal government of the existing TennCare money,” so the state could have more flexibility in providing Medicaid services, and provide those services to more people.

But that’s an extremely complicated issue that Smith said the Legislature isn’t likely to tackle before adjourning for the year.

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