BlueCross BlueShield pushes TennCare expansion

BlueCross BlueShield pushes TennCare expansion

March 27th, 2013 by Kate Harrison Belz in Local Regional News

Aerial of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee headquarters in Chattanooga

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee leaders said Tuesday that while they continue to urge Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to expand TennCare, they think the governor's decision - expected this week - could go either way.

"Unfortunately, the governor has a strong fight against this in the Legislature," said BlueCross CEO Bill Gracey in a meeting with Chattanooga Times Free Press reporters and editors. "We're trying to help the governor with the fight, but we cannot assure you that we're going to get there. I hope we do. Right now I'd say it's 50/50."

As Haslam mulls whether to expand TennCare -- the state's version of Medicaid -- BlueCross and a litany of other health care industry leaders and business coalitions continue to push for expansion as a decision they have called "clear and decisive," and "a win-win-win."

Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government will fully fund the expansion for three years and will scale back to 90 percent after that. The expansion would bring an estimated 181,700 uninsured people into the program.

"As a health plan interested in people having proper coverage so they can sleep at night, our goal would be to encourage the governor and the legislature to cover those people," Gracey said.

If Medicaid is not expanded, costs for nonpaying patients at hospitals will continue to be shifted to paying patients -- those covered by BlueCross and other insurers. Other health care providers have said that not accepting the funding could mean cutting jobs and resources.

But Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said last week that he "doesn't think the votes are there" in the GOP-led Legislature for a complete expansion, even if Haslam opts to push for one.