On the eve of a pivotal congressional vote on health care reform, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander warned that the plan could cripple education in Tennessee by diverting state funds to pay for an expanded Medicaid program.
Sen. Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said the health plan slated for a House vote Sunday could cost Tennessee more than $1 billion extra in TennCare costs over the next decade.
To pay for those extra costs, the state would have to either raise taxes or make further cuts in education funding, he said.
"I believe this health care legislation, if it were to pass, would permanently damage public higher education in Tennessee, or send tuition through the roof, or force state tax increases," Sen. Alexander told reporters Friday during a conference call.
But the final language of the health reform plan should help more than 200,000 Tennesseans get health care coverage through TennCare and help ensure that Tennessee hospitals continue to get extra Medicaid funds for providing charity care.
Retiring Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., who has fought for extra funding for Tennessee hospitals to treat Medicaid and uninsured patients for years, praised the bill's inclusion of the extra $99 million in Medicaid payments for Tennessee for fiscal 2012 and 2013.
Rep. Gordon, who voted against the House version of health care reform last November, said he will vote for the new measure on Sunday. He said health care reform will reduce the federal deficit and premiums for families and small businesses and improve access to health care for millions of Americans.
Two other moderate Tennessee Democrats -- Rep. Lincoln Davis and John Tanner -- have yet to say which way they will vote on the measure.
Sen. Alexander said the federal portion of health care reform will mean higher taxes and Medicare cuts. But to pay for expanding Medicaid, Tennessee will have to pay nearly $300 million more into TennCare starting in 2014, he said.
"The explosive costs of this new bill will inevitably fall on higher education in Tennessee," said Mr. Alexander, a former Tennessee governor and University of Tennessee president.
State higher educational funding has already been cut by $277 million over the past three years, he said.