published Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Top House Democrat files info request with feds over Haslam's 'Tennessee Plan' on Medicaid expansion

NASHVILLE — The top House Democratic leader is requesting the Obama administration turn over documents detailing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's interactions with the administration on his Medicaid expansion proposal.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said in a statement to the Times Free Press that he took the unusual step of filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to see what the problems are that Haslam says has caused him to forgo expansion for now.

"We take the governor at his word that he is negotiating in good-faith with [federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] and HHS," Fitzhugh said.

But he added that "for a year, we have asked to see his plan, to understand the sticking points. That information hasn't been forthcoming, so we're trying a little different route this time. We want to understand the sticking points, so that we can hopefully be helpful in a resolution."

Fitzhugh's FOIA request asks for all written and electronic communications between Tennessee and HHS officials on Medicaid expansion as well as "all plans submitted" by Tennessee regarding the expansion.

It also requests all notes taken by federal officials during conversations with Tennessee officials as well as phone records of communications with state officials, notes, records and documents related to Medicaid expansion.

Since he first announced a year ago that he was not immediately moving to expand TennCare, the state's version of Medicaid, to an estimated 162,000 lower-income Tennesseans, Haslam has sought to blame delays on Medicaid rules he says block him from carrying out aggressive cost-cutting and cost sharing measures.

The expansion, which began Jan. 1, is provided for under the federal Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare. The federal government is paying 100 percent of the costs for the first three years.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently told reporters in Memphis that while she, Haslam and various officials have discussed with the governor what he would like, Tennessee has yet to submit a formal waiver request, seeking to lift certain Medicaid rules.

Democrats have previously questioned whether Haslam is serious about the plan or using the issue as a delaying tactic to avoid expansion as he seeks reelection.

Meanwhile, in the Republican-led Legislature, Tea Party lawmakers and others are moving legislation that would force Haslam to get their permission before expanding Tennessee’s health insurance program for the Medicaid program for the poor.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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