End of the Line for ‘Insure TN’

An attempt to revive Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to use Obamacare funding to finance health coverage for nearly 300,000 Tennesseans has once again been shot down in a state Senate hearing.

Most of the Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee proved in no mood to move a resolution to the upper-chamber Finance Committee that would have authorized Haslam to launch “Insure Tennessee” after the U.S. Supreme Court hands down a decision this summer on the legality of government subsidies in federally run Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges.

Senate Joint Resolution 93 was sponsored by Sen. Doug Overbey of Maryville and was defeated on a 6-2 vote. That means the issue is likely dead for the year — even though the House has yet to vote on the matter in any of its committees.

“Insure Tennessee” was previously killed in a special session Senate Health Committee on a 7-4 vote back in February. But earlier this month it was revived, and last week won passage in the regular session Health Committee — only to seemingly meet its end this week.

The House version of the resolution could come up Wednesday in the Finance and Banking Subcommittee, but it seemingly would face extremely long odds in the lower chamber, too. Like in the Senate, Republicans enjoy supermajority domination over Democrats.

Nevertheless, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, released a statement after the Senate Commerce Committee vote in which he said, “(O)ur constituents deserve the right to be heard and 300,000 Tennesseans who get up everyday, go to work and pay taxes deserve the chance to have health care. This is a moral issue and we have a moral imperative to pick ourselves up and keep fighting.”

However, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said that with the Senate vote Tuesday, the House version of the resolution is more than likely “a dead duck.”

“I don’t expect there to be a whole lot of momentum. If there’s no chance of actually passing the thing, I don’t know that everybody will want to put a whole lot of effort into it, is my guess,” said McCormick, who sponsored the governor’s proposal in the special session and still considers “Insure Tennessee” a sound proposal.

Devised behind closed doors by the Haslam administration over the past two years, “Insure Tennessee” would have created a two-year pilot project system of vouchers and co-pays mostly funded through the Affordable Care Act. Eligible enrollees would have been Tennesseans in the so-called “coverage gap” who aren’t poor enough for TennCare but also don’t make enough money to qualify for Obamacare insurance marketplace subsidies.

The six members of the Commerce Committee voting “no” on the resolution were Chairman Jack Johnson of Franklin, Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, Bo Watson of Hixon, Steve Southerland of Morristown, Dolores Gresham of Somerville and Jim Tracy of Shelbyville. All are Republicans.

Voting “yes” were Ken Yager, R-Kingston, and Reginald Tate, D-Memphis.

Mark Green, a Republican from Clarksville, abstained from the vote, saying that as a physician he stood to gain financially from either a “yes” or “no” vote.