Haslam Continues Talks on Medicaid Expansion

By Bill Dries

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has been talking with President Barack Obama’s administration since his decision last month not to accept federal funding for an expansion of the state’s Medicaid funding at least for now.


Haslam was in Washington last week to talk with federal health officials about a possible compromise, he said during a weekend visit to Memphis.

“I would describe it as we have a difficult path to get where we need to,” Haslam said. “But if we can get done what we want to, it will be worth it for everybody.”

The talks continue as Haslam is weighing a growing stack of bills on various other topics being passed by the Tennessee General Assembly as it nears the end of its session this month.

The end of the session comes just past the midway point of Haslam’s four-year term of office.

Two years in, there have been a few changes in Haslam’s cabinet.

Mark Emkes, Haslam’s commissioner of Finance and Administration, announced Monday he will leave the post at the end of May, at which point the state budget for the next fiscal year will be in place.

Emkes, the former CEO and president of Bridgestone Americas, was one of Haslam’s first cabinet appointees. He is leaving to be with his wife in Spain.

Kate O’Day resigned as commissioner of Children’s Services in February over how the department handled the cases of children who died following state investigations into possible abuse and neglect. The problems go back years but O’Day’s administration included a move to close the records to the public that was overruled by a Nashville chancellor.

The search is underway by Haslam for a successor to Emkes. O’Day’s interim replacement is Jim Henry who had been appointed by Haslam as a troubleshooter before O’Day’s resignation.

Haslam is not putting any kind of timeline on the Medicaid talks, which involve TennCare, Tennessee’s version of Medicaid.

“I’m working hard to get it done as soon as we can,” he said. “I honestly don’t know if that’s a month or a year. The new plan comes into play in January 2014. Whether we could have something by then, I honestly don’t know.”

The ongoing talks continue the political balance Haslam worked on up to his initial decision. Haslam told Republican super majorities in both chambers of the legislature that the decision was more difficult than his earlier one to pass on a state health care exchange and involved different issues.

Although he said he couldn’t get the structure and conditions he wanted from the Obama administration on a modified approach to the Medicaid expansion including private health insurance bought with federal dollars, Haslam urged Republican legislators to not react through their general opposition to anything under the heading ObamaCare.

But as he continues to talk to Washington, Haslam acknowledged there are deeper concerns about an expansion of TennCare rooted in the state’s past experience.

“TennCare was expanded before and we had to cut the rolls and I think you have a lot of people who have a vivid memory of that and don’t want to be back in that position,” he said.