published Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam asks for help on expanding Medicaid coverage

WASHINGTON — Gov. Bill Haslam has asked U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to come up with a proposal that would give Tennessee more flexibility to expand Medicaid coverage.

Haslam, who was in Washington over the weekend for the winter meeting of the National Governors Association, said he talked with Sebelius on Sunday and again Monday about what the state needs to expand Medicaid.

"We've had a lot of conversations about what won't work," Haslam said Monday. "I said, 'You know what we need to make a plan work. Why don't you come back to us with a proposal that will work?' And that's where we left it."

Sebelius promised that federal officials would be back in touch with the state soon, Haslam said.

"Obviously, they've got some things they have to work through as well, and they are talking with other states," Haslam said. "But we agreed that was the right next step."

Tennessee has been in negotiations for several months with Health and Human Services in hopes of reaching a deal to cut the cost of expanding Medicaid, which is a key component of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Under the health care reform law, the federal government would pay 100 percent of the expansion costs in the first three years, with that amount dropping to 90 percent by 2020. The state would have to pay the other 10 percent.

Tennessee is one of two dozen states that haven't expanded coverage.

Haslam wants to be able to use the federal expansion money to buy private insurance for those covered, require copayments for some people and change the payment system to be based more on successful outcome of treatments.

After his meetings with Sebelius, "they understand what we need to make it work," Haslam said. "And we understand a lot more clearly, I think, than we did the things from their side that won't work."

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