VOL. 130 | NO. 58 | Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Haslam Encouraged By Insure Tenn. Revival; Ramsey Skeptical
ERIK SCHELZIG | Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that he's pleased to see his Insure Tennessee proposal revived in the Legislature, but the top Republican in the Senate called it unlikely that the measure will reach an up-or-down vote by the full chamber.
The resolution sponsored by freshman Democratic Sen. Jeff Yarbro advanced to the full Health Committee with positive recommendation on Monday on a 3-2 vote. The measure largely mirrors Haslam's proposal to extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans that failed in a special session last month.
"We continue to think it's the right thing," Haslam said in a speech of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce. "I know ideas like this don't ever come easy.
"So we don't take the fact that it didn't pass the first time as the ultimate failure," the Republican governor. "We will keep trying to find a way to make that happen."
Under Haslam's two-year pilot proposal, state hospitals have agreed to cover the $74 million state share to draw down $2.8 billion in federal Medicaid money. The Tennessee Hospital Association has called the prospect of federal money a "lifeline" as they face the loss of $7.8 billion over the decade following the passage of the federal health care law.
Opponents of the Insure Tennessee proposal said they objected to adding to the federal debt by drawing down the money under President Barack Obama's health care law. They say they don't trust the federal government to keep promises to allow Tennessee to withdraw from the plan if it ends up being more expensive than expected.
Yarbro acknowledged that the measure "faces a tough gantlet" even if it clears the health committee.
"But it's doable," he said. "I think it passes on both floors if it gets there."
However, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he doesn't give the measure much of a chance of making it through the committee system.
"I'm not sure it ever gets to the floor, to be perfectly honest," Ramsey said after Monday's floor session. "But again, there were those back in the special session that felt that I stacked the Health Committee, which was not true."
Ramsey had appointed different committees for the special session, and the Insure Tennessee proposal failed on a 7-4 vote.
Supporters will need five votes to advance the measure out of the regular session committee, but it would likely face tougher prospects in its next committees.
"We expected that to happen," Ramsey said. "We've said everybody gets a fair hearing up here. We're not a roadblock, we just want everybody to vote their conscience, and that's what they're doing."
Even if the measure were to clear the Senate, it would face uncertain prospects in the lower chamber, where Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville has not embraced the proposal despite a survey of her district showing majority support.
Associated Press writer Lucas L. Johnson II contributed to this report.
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