‘Insure Tennessee’ Back in Action

The governor’s Medicaid expansion plan, which died during a special session last month, cleared the Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee on a 6-2-1 vote Wednesday evening.

“Insure Tennessee” is now headed to the upper chamber’s Commerce and Labor Committee, where most Capitol watchers, including Gov. Bill Haslam himself, predict it will hit rougher sailing.

The plan, which would be authorized by Senate Joint Resolution 93, aims to draw down billions of dollars in Affordable Care Act-related funding to expand government-financed insurance to people who make too much for TennCare, but not enough for Obamacare’s federal-exchange subsides. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 300,000 Tennesseans are anticipated to be eligible for “Insure Tennessee.”

Voting yes on the Health Committee were five Republicans, including SJR93 sponsor Doug Overbey of Maryville, Rusty Crowe of Johnson City, Ed Jackson of Jackson, Becky Duncan Massey of Knoxville and Richard Briggs, also from Knoxville.

Nashville Democrat Jeff Yarbro, the minority party’s caucus chairman, also voted in favor.

Bo Watson of Hixson, the Senate’s Republican speaker pro tem, as well as Randy McNally of Oak Ridge, voted against the bill. Republican Joey Hensley, a Republican physician from Hohenwald, abstained.

If the measure by chance slips through the Commerce Committee, McNally, also a Republican, would likely get another shot at shooting it down in the Finance Committee, which he chairs.

The House version of the legislation, HJR85, is scheduled for a hearing in the Insurance and Banking Subcommittee next week, where it too is expected to face stiff resistance.

In early February, during the “extraordinary session” of the Legislature, a handpicked special Senate Health and Welfare Committee killed the proposal in a 7-4 vote. At that time, Crowe — who voted in favor of the resolution this week — voted “no.”

When it was unveiled, Haslam called “Insure Tennessee” a “market-based” alternative to simple Medicaid expansion. The governor has promised any of the costs not covered by Washington, D.C. that are associated with extending coverage to the more than a quarter of a million newly eligibles in Tennessee would be covered by the state’s hospitals.

However, as amended, the measure would call on Haslam to hold off on implementing the plan until after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on whether or not the subsidies provided by the federal government are legal.

SJR93 also requires a “lockout provision” for enrollees failing to pay premiums, as well as a demand of written confirmation from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that the Volunteer State can pull out of the program if the costs run too high.

While the resolution’s fiscal note indicates a cost increase to the state of about $7.8 million, TennCare officials explained those costs would be covered by certain “offsets,” as well as the additional funds from the state’s hospitals.

Haslam praised the Senate for taking up the issue again earlier this week at a Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast Tuesday, calling it “an encouraging sign.”

However, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey remains skeptical, and told the Associated Press this week that he’s “not sure it ever gets to the floor, to be perfectly honest.”

When the the governor’s Medicaid expansion resolution was killed earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville suggested that any future Medicaid expansion authorization would have to “pass on the floor of the House before the Senate will consider it.”

Alex Harris can be contacted at Alex@TNReport.com.