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VOL. 129 | NO. 111 | Monday, June 9, 2014

Cohen Challenges Haslam on Medicaid Expansion

By Bill Dries

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U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen says the city’s fair share of federal funding for rape kit backlogs is $1 million.


But Cohen told the Frayser Exchange Club last week that he wants more than that once Congress approves the legislation.

“If we get our fair share, we’ll get over a million dollars of that federal money,” Cohen told the luncheon group of 40 Thursday, June 5, at Sarah Lee’s Kitchen. “We don’t want our fair share. We want more than our fair share.”

The Frayser group was one of the latest in a series of stops in this election year before Cohen’s return to Washington this week.

Cohen continued to fault Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam for refusing to take an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act while his administration pushes Cohen to support additional federal gas tax revenue for Tennessee road projects.

Cohen said he favors federal funding for both.

“I’ll extend the gas tax. I’ll extend whatever tax is passable in the Congress to see that we continue to build and improve our roads all over the country,” he said. “But I’m astonished that state government will write me and ask me to vote for asphalt – which I’m for – but will not respond to a letter that I sent to the governor asking him to accept $1 billion from the federal government to save people’s lives and to give them health care.”

Cohen referred to Haslam and Lt. Gov. Rom Ramsey as the “two ringleaders” in the push to oppose Medicaid expansion.

Haslam has been negotiating with the federal Health and Human Services department on terms for some form of Medicaid that would involve private coverage. The negotiations have not produced any meaningful movement by either side.

Haslam has also pledged to take any move he may make toward a Medicaid expansion to the state Legislature, which this year passed a bill to require legislative approval of any Medicaid expansion proposal.

Ramsey, who as lieutenant governor is also speaker of the state Senate, has said he doesn’t foresee a Medicaid expansion of any kind passing the Legislature and has questioned Haslam’s willingness to negotiate with President Barack Obama’s administration.

“They don’t care about Obama, and because they don’t care about Obama, they don’t care about the people who need the Medicaid extension,” Cohen said. “The Affordable Care Act is the law. I proudly voted for it. It is the third leg on the stool of Social Security: Medicare and Medicaid and now the Affordable Care Act.”

Haslam and other Republicans in the capital have said that although the federal government would pay all of the cost of an expansion in the first three years and 90 percent in the second three years, they fear all of the cost would shift over time to state government.

They cite the paring of TennCare rolls during Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration and the growth in state funding already going to TennCare, Tennessee’s version of Medicaid.

Cohen argued the sales tax on the federal funding would pay for the expansion through the sixth year.

“We can cover that 10 percent with the sales tax you get on that billion dollars easy,” he said.

And Cohen likened the financial impact of Medicaid expansion to that of a new industry.

“What do you think the governor would do if a company came to him and said, ‘We are going to put a billion dollars in your economy’?” he asked. “(The governor would say) ‘How many roads can we build for you? How long would you like for your tax abatement? How much would you like for credits for every person you hire? We want you.’”

It’s not the first time the former state senator has criticized Haslam.

Cohen remains critical of Haslam’s Tennessee Promise program, which uses state lottery proceeds to finance free community college for all Tennessee residents who otherwise could not afford it.

Cohen also said he is preparing to recommend Obama nominate a second Memphian to the Tennessee Valley Authority board – an African-American business owner.

“You all know this individual,” Cohen said without naming the possible nominee.

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