Gov. Bill Haslam wasting our time, money

Gov. Bill Haslam wasting our time, money

December 11th, 2013 in Opinion Times

Gov. Bill Haslam

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has been reading too many GOP primers on "tell the lie long enough ... ."

This is the same Bill Haslam who joined up with other obstructionist GOP governors to turn down free federal money to expand Medicaid (TennCare in Tennessee) as part of the Affordable Care Act to cover an estimated 181,000 Tennesseans who won't get coverage under the federal health care law, known best as Obamacare.

That free money -- our tax dollars -- would pay 100 percent of the new cost to the state for three years and 90 percent of the cost thereafter. It's "free" to Tennessee because certainly no one expects a tax refund just because Haslam chose to grandstand.

Several weeks ago, when it became clear that Obamacare wouldn't be repealed and the signup website began to work, Haslam scratched his chin in front of reporters and said he had "a very difficult needle to thread" in persuading fellow Republicans in the state Legislature and the Democratic Obama administration to let Tennessee have the money but expand Medicaid the Volunteer State way. His plan entails limiting care for the Tennesseans in the program, which is managed, in part, in this state by BlueCross BlueShield. But the new law is designed to prevent insurers from limiting care.

Still, federal officials have said they are willing to entertain a proposal, and both the feds and Haslam have said they have had "talks." But Haslam has never given them a detailed, formal, written proposal for a waiver -- something surely Tennessee officials knew must accompany any plan to get special favor. After all, Tennessee had to file hundreds of papers for the waiver that started TennCare several years and gubernatorial administrations ago.

Yet this week, Haslam had the gall to fire off a two-page letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius demanding that he must have federal approval of the special conditions he wants for his "Tennessee Plan," which he unveiled with great fanfare to state lawmakers eight months ago. Without that approval, he warned, "We do not see a path forward in the current environment that will allow us to extend coverage to the Medicaid Expansion population."

It's no joke that he doesn't see a path forward. Haslam, in a fit of partisan bravado, has already turned down $1.4 billion in federal funds beginning Jan. 1 for the Medicaid expansion. Yet at budget talks time, the administration learned that increased costs next year in TennCare threaten to gobble up to 60 percent of all new revenue in the state's upcoming 2015 budget.

To deal with the projected $173 million increase (only $78 million of that is due to expansion for Obamacare), TennCare Director Darin Gordon has outlined up to $118 million in potential cuts, including a worst-case, 5 percent reduction that slashes payments to hospitals, doctors and other providers by 2.5 percent.

The governor and his administration have now had eight months to either formalize a plan or get down off their high horse. He wasted time -- our time. And money -- our money.

Maybe Haslam should go back to his family's struggling oil distribution and convenience store/travel station business, Pilot Flying J.

Oh, but wait, that's in deep trouble, too -- facing a continuing federal investigation on charges of cheating truckers out of Flying J-promised fuel rebates.