Haslam: TennCare Experience Guides Exchange Call

ERIK SCHELZIG | Associated Press

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (AP) – Gov. Bill Haslam says Tennessee's long experience in running an expanded Medicaid program is the reason it's taking longer than most other states to decide how to comply with the new federal health care law requirements on insurance exchanges.

Tennessee is one of 10 states yet to make a decision on whether it will run its own health insurance marketplace, let the federal government handle it or choose hybrid of the two. The deadline to decide is Dec. 14.

"We have an advantage in that we have a TennCare system, because we've been doing this for a while, so we have some of the very best in the business working for us there," the Republican governor told reporters after a speech to the Farm Bureau on Monday.

"I think we've gotten into this in more detail. I think we understand the ramifications both ways better than some others do," he said. "I'm not saying they've made a mistake in making their decisions. But it's important for us to make the best decision.

TennCare was plagued by out-of-control costs until former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen in 2005 decided to make deep cuts to both enrollment and benefits.

The governor has said he leans toward having more state control, but has criticized the federal government for not being able to divulge details about how much flexibility would be granted to the state. But he has also acknowledged that a state exchange would be a tough sell among fellow Republicans in the Legislature, many of whom ran for office on a platform of opposing President Barack Obama's signature health care plan.

But Haslam said he won't be swayed by a planned tea party rally outside the Capitol on Wednesday to urge him to reject a state exchange.

"Obviously in government we want to listen to everybody," he said after the Farm Bureau speech. "But I could probably go in this room and say, do you think we should run a state-run exchange, and I could probably get a whole bunch of people who say, yes.

"So you take all the information you can," he said. "But at the end of the day it's our job to make the very best decision we can for the state."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.