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Haslam: Medicaid Expansion Talks Didn’t Get Down-and-Dirty with New HHS Top

Tennessee’s Republican governor, Bill Haslam, said he had a “great conversation” with Sylvia Mathews Burwell when she was in Nashville a little over a week ago for the for the National Governors Association summit.

But Gov. Haslam said he and Burwell, the Obama administration’s new U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary, didn’t get into particulars with respect to working out a deal that might enable the state to draw down Affordable Care Act money from Washington earmarked for expanding the number of people in Tennessee eligible for government-finance health insurance.

“It wasn’t that kind of specific conversation in terms of where we are in the issues,” Haslam told TNReport in Winchester Monday. The governor was visiting the Franklin County seat to announce he was handing out half a million dollars in taxpayer-funded grants for city-center revitalization and regional recreation upgrades, like renovations to campsites and trails in Tims Ford State Park, and new lights at a local ball field.

“I do think we continue to make progress,” the governor said of the meeting with Burwell. “We had a good conversation about that, as well as numerous — you know, HHS obviously encompasses a lot of areas for the federal government, so we had a pretty broad range of conversation.”

Haslam said part of his talk with Burwell was a process of  “just getting to know each other.” He added that the two discussed “the history of where we are, and then both the financial and political realities that we’re dealing with in Tennessee.”

“I was very impressed by her,” Haslam said.

About two weeks ago, Haslam told TNReport at another grant announcement in Southeast Tennessee that he was hoping t0 find some middle-ground for facilitating Obamacare’s Medicaid-expansion provision in the Volunteer State when she stopped off in Middle Tennessee for the NGA festivities.

Haslam noted that although he’d met Burwell previously when she was filling a different role in the Obama administration, he was looking forward to talking with her for the first time since she’d taken charge at HHS. Haslam said that he hoped new blood at HHS could mean getting “some of the logs unjammed.”

Haslam told the Chattanooga Times Free Press following the NGA meeting that while his conversation with Burwell was upbeat, there were several “bright lines” that divided the state and the feds policy-wise. Some of those divisions include what’s covered and how to incentivize better health choices — which includes Haslam’s desire to use co-payments for the expansion.

In related news, the federal government has kicked off a new $100 million initiative program — developed with input from the National Governor’s Health Care Sustainability Task Force, and praised by Haslam — intended to help states improve their Medicaid programs.