VOL. 130 | NO. 85 | Friday, May 1, 2015
Norris Says TennCare Review ‘Essential’
By Bill Dries
The majority leader of the Tennessee State Senate says the legislature is not done with a proposed expansion of Medicaid.
But Republican Sen. Mark Norris of Collierville is quick to add that the expansion proposed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam should be part of a larger re-examination of the existing TennCare program.
“Rather than Medicaid expansion, we really need to be looking at the management of TennCare,” Norris said on the WKNO TV program “Behind The Headlines.” “You need to look at the entire program. How are we managing the TennCare program we’ve got?”
Behind The Headlines, hosted by The Daily News publisher Eric Barnes, airs at 7 p.m. Friday, May 1 and at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, May 3.
Norris said TennCare, Tennessee’s version of Medicaid, is growing even without the expansion that is part of the Affordable Care Act. He puts state funding of TennCare at 32 percent of the state budget.
And Norris points out former Gov. Phil Bredesen moved to pare the TennCare rolls by 300,000 during his administration when the program became 30 percent of the state budget.
“We’re over subscribed,” Norris said. “And in June there’s going to be a (U.S. Supreme Court) ruling that determines whether the subsidies that the federal government has been paying to Tennesseans to enroll are constitutional. And if not, we may lose those.”
Norris is referring to the King vs. Burwell case.
He termed an “overhaul” of TennCare as “essential” once the ruling is in.
“And really TennCare is about care,” Norris added. “Medicaid expansion is about insurance. There’s a difference. We have people who are enrolled and receiving health care under TennCare. I’m concerned about what happens if those rolls need to be cut as they were under Phil Bredesen.”
Norris commented after the legislature adjourned for the year. It began with a special session in which Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal quickly died in a state Senate committee. It got a legislative review in the House but no vote there at all.
For Norris, the session represented a low point in the relationship between the two chambers – both of which have Republican super majorities.
“The going got a lot better after the special session. And it’s healthy,” he said. “What was disappointing to me was the lack of any meaningful position or any meaningful activity despite sort of the facade of activity during the special session.”
Norris again insisted the two speakers – Beth Harwell in the House and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey in the Senate – had agreed the House would act on Insure Tennessee first.
“I worked for about a month to establish that protocol and I was open about it. And all of a sudden without notice they changed their mind,” he said of the House leadership. “I’d say it reflects a lack of leadership in the house. That may stem from fear of factionalism. I don’t know. … (Ramsey) was out front and up front. The speaker of the house was really nowhere to be seen and that sort of fed the factionalism in the House of Representatives. It really was a do-nothing moment in the special session, a do-nothing moment in history.”
On Insure Tennessee, Norris counts himself among Republican legislators who were willing to listen and keep an open mind.
“There are three groups. The largest I think is open minded,” he said. “The smallest perhaps is the few that have gone out in favor of it. And there are some, quite frankly, who want it to come to the floor not to vote for it but to vote publicly against it.”