NASHVILLE - Gov. Bill Haslam on Friday announced he is postponing a decision on whether Tennessee will create its online marketplace for health insurance, taking advantage of President Barack Obama's administration's month-long extension of what had been today's deadline for states to decide.
State House Democrats accused the governor of procrastinating and urged him to "rip the Band-Aid off -- one way or another."
Haslam, a Republican, said no decision has been made by the state regarding creating its own insurance exchange or letting the federal government do it. On Thursday, the Obama administration extended Friday's deadline to Dec. 14 upon Republican governors' request.
But two other area governors weren't as tentative. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley both said their states will not set up the health exchanges, extended deadline or not.
That leaves the federal government to come in and create the exchanges, which must be in place by 2014.
"We believe that a well designed, private free-market approach to small business exchanges could be beneficial to small businesses, but the regulations promulgated by your administration take those options away," Deal wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
In a statement, Haslam said that "we are hopeful in the coming weeks we will receive answers from Washington to the many questions we've asked in our effort to have a full picture of the future of exchanges in Tennessee.
The governor, who has been leaning toward recommending Tennessee set up its own exchange, said "let me be clear, I oppose the Affordable Care Act. I joined with other Republican governors earlier this year to fight the law. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court upheld a majority of it this summer, including the provision that states are required to either participate in a federal exchange or establish their own."
Haslam, who will face opposition from legislative Republicans on setting up an exchange, said he understands "there is a lot of passion and uncertainty about the health care law, and I share that frustration. As governor, I believe it is my job to put emotions aside and to make the tough decisions on the serious issues that impact Tennesseans. That is what I'm working hard to do."
House Democrats urged Haslam to go ahead and act, with Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner questioning why he is delaying the decision.
"While it's natural to want to continue to procrastinate and take advantage of an extended deadline, Tennessee has spent $9 million and two years studying this issue; it's time to rip the Band-Aid off -- one way or another," Turner said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.