VOL. 130 | NO. 10 | Thursday, January 15, 2015
Fellow Republicans Reluctant About Haslam's Health Proposal
ERIK SCHELZIG | Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam's plan to offer health coverage to more than 200,000 low-income Tennesseans is getting a tepid response from fellow Republicans in the Legislature – so much so, that he has yet to find a Senate sponsor for his proposal.
Senate Republican leader Mark Norris of Collierville, who is normally tasked with carrying bills in the governor's legislative agenda, has yet to commit to sponsor the Insure Tennessee proposal.
"We understand the concept, and the administration has put forth a plan that's worthy of consideration, but what form that takes remains to be seen," Norris said Wednesday. "I don't think there's much appetite for it, but I'm not quite sure what it is going to be yet."
Norris' counterpart in the House, Rep. Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga, has agreed to sponsor the measure, but doesn't sound particularly enthusiastic about it.
"Majority leaders carry governors' bills," McCormick said. "So I'm going to cover the governor's bill."
"I'd rather carry motherhood, apple pie and the Tennessee Promise," McCormick said, referring to Haslam's free community college tuition program enacted last year. "But you take the good, the bad and ugly."
Haslam has called a Feb. 2 special session to take up the measure seeking to draw on Medicaid expansion money available under President Barack Obama's health care law. The governor has been quick to stress that his plan to use the money to issue vouchers to buy private insurance is different from the straight expansion passed in other states.
McCormick said he will argue that Tennesseans already pay to cover a lot of the hospital and patient services for uninsured patients who would be covered under Haslam's proposal.
"If people look at that argument and from that standpoint I think it will pass," McCormick said. "And if they're not willing to do that because of political considerations it won't pass."
Haslam told reporters last week that he expects to need the votes of all Democrats in the Legislature to pass the measure. Democrats hold 26 of 99 seats in the House and five of the 33 Senate seats.
House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said she's yet to form a personal opinion about the measure. She noted that hospitals in or near her district are vocal supporters, but said she hasn't heard much from constituents about the matter.
"I'm keeping an open mind," she said.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said his main concern about Haslam's proposed two-year pilot program is that the state wouldn't be able to drop the plan should costs escalate in the future.
"I want to make sure there are some outs, some relief valves if the federal government doesn't hold up their end of the bargain," Ramsey said.
He said the Republican caucus is "receptive" to the governor's proposal, but is not yet willing to commit to supporting it. Ramsey said he could understand Norris' hesitation about sponsoring the Senate version of Haslam's measure.
"It doesn't surprise me that Mark's not going to obligate himself to carry something 'til he knows what's in it," Ramsey said.
Associated Press writer Lucas L. Johnson II contributed to this report.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.