Gov. Bill Haslam has called a special session that will start Feb. 2 dedicated solely to his proposal, Insure Tennessee. But passage won’t come easily, as many state lawmakers, like House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, are greeting it with skepticism.
“I respect and admire his thoughts and what he’s trying to do,” Casada said. “Many legislators like myself, though, have reservations about increasing the size of government.”
Insure Tennessee is meant to extend coverage to more than 200,000 Tennesseans who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, yet too little to buy insurance on their own. The Affordable Care Act calls on states to grant coverage to these people, and the law guarantees the federal government will shoulder the full cost of expansion through 2016 and at least 90 percent after that.
Tennessee hospitals have agreed to pick up the state’s portion of the cost, and Haslam has reserved the right to cancel Medicaid expansion after two years.
But Republicans in statehouses across the country have refused to do expand Medicaid. Many say they don’t want to take on the burden or financial risk of expanding Medicaid.
Insure Tennessee would offer two plans to offer the uninsured. One, called the Volunteer Plan, would grant subsidies to workers who can’t afford their employers’ health insurance coverage. The Haslam administration estimates that more than half of those who would qualify for Insure Tennessee are working and might be able to purchase coverage with some assistance.
The second, known as the Healthy Incentives Plan, would be similar to traditional Medicaid. But participants would also get credits for doing things like giving up smoking or exercising more. These credits could be used to cover co-payments or other medical costs.
Haslam says Insure Tennessee represents a “conservative approach” that will make Tennesseans healthier.
But first, he has to convince fellow Republicans of that, while also satisfying officials in the Obama administration.