VOL. 131 | NO. 116 | Friday, June 10, 2016
Insure Tennessee Advocates on the Road
By Bill Dries
The state House’s task force on Insure Tennessee is nearing a June report to federal health regulators on its work. And a Tennessee Hospital Association advocacy group is ramping up its appeal for legislative passage of either the Medicaid expansion alternative or some similar program that might come out of the task force.
The group Tennesseans for a Responsible Future is on the road across the state this month against the backdrop of an election season in which many Republican contenders up and down ballots in different states are pledging to repeal the Affordable Care Act, especially if there is a Republican in the White House next year.
“We can’t guess as to what the political climate will look like several months from now especially in this political climate – as unpredictable as it has been lately,” said Adam Nickas of Tennesseans for a Responsible Future. “We know what the problem is. We know what the solution looks like.”
Nickas, a Republican political operative, is well-aware of the vocal opposition among the Republican supermajorities in the state House and Senate that crushed Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal in the 2015 special session.
Much of the opposition was to passage of any plan that had any ties or identification with “Obamacare.”
“We’re going to lay out the details. We’re going to lay out the facts,” Nickas said when asked about overcoming that opposition. “And once we do that, we believe there will be a groundswell of support when people recognize that Insure Tennessee or whatever may become of a similar proposal is a proposal that was designed by Tennessee for Tennessee.”
The facts the group will emphasize is that most of the 280,000 Tennesseans who would be covered by Insure Tennessee are the working poor. And of that group, 24,000 are veterans.
Nickas also believes Haslam didn’t leave enough time between rolling out the details of the Insure Tennessee proposal and the January 2015 special session to consider it.
Republican leaders of the two chambers also clashed over the timing of who was to vote first on the proposal in the special session. The result was that neither the House nor the Senate ever got to a floor vote on the proposal.
But since the defeat of the proposal, Republican lawmakers who opposed it have said the details were just as crucial as the political atmosphere.
State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville has said the state’s management of the existing TennCare program – the state’s version of Medicaid – should be reviewed before any expansion is considered.
The state House task force counts both Democratic Rep. Karen Camper of Memphis and Republican Rep. Steve McManus of Collierville among its members. It is expected to present its ideas to the federal group that approves waivers for programs like TennCare sometimes later this month.
Beth Harwell’s appointment of the task force drew criticism from those for and against Insure Tennessee, who said the move was a political gesture.
“We do believe that whatever proposal comes out of the task force, it needs to be comprehensive,” Nickas said. “It needs to cover the estimated 280,000 Tennesseans that fall into the Medicaid gap and it needs to be able to pass muster with the federal government.”