McCormick wants U.S. to run health exchange

photo Tennessee House Republican Leader Gerald McCormick
Arkansas-Tennessee Live Blog

Tennessee's top House Republican doesn't think Uncle Sam is prepared to run a statewide health exchange, but he'd rather "the feds" implement the program than the state.

"I can use any number of examples of bad things we could do more efficiently than the federal government. That doesn't mean we should do them," House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said after a speech to the downtown Chamber of Commerce.

His remarks are the latest in a deadline-driven fight over health insurance markets required by the Affordable Care Act. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has until Dec. 14 to authorize a state-run insurance exchange; if he does nothing before the deadline, the federal government will set it up.

"The feds created it. Let them run it," McCormick said. "I don't have an obligation to clean their mess for them."

While Alabama and Georgia have decided against setting up exchanges, Tennessee and nine other states are still split over state-versus-federal. Haslam routinely criticizes "Obamacare," but he's considering a state-run exchange he believes will be less costly and more helpful than a federal program.

That's the traditional conservative view: Keep costs down, and leave the federal government out of health care, private markets and the economy. But Democrats say McCormick's Republicans are abandoning all that when it comes to the Affordable Care Act.

"These Republicans contort themselves into ideological backflips and positions that wouldn't be seen at Barnum and Bailey's wonderful circus," Tennessee Democratic Party spokesman Brandon Puttbrese said. "All to oppose anything coming out of President Obama's mouth."

Puttbrese and other Democrats have said Tennessee's insurance dilemma illustrates a nationwide Republican effort to sabotage Obama and overwhelm the federal government into dropping its plan to swoop into uncooperative states.

But McCormick doesn't see that happening.

"The Affordable Care Act is here, and we've got to deal with it," McCormick acknowledged.

His speech came a day after 300 tea party activists, some armed with "No to HaslamCare" signs, stormed Legislative Plaza in Nashville in an attempt to phase out health care reform.

That won't happen, but the GOP feud isn't going away. Republicans opposed to a state-run program say they wouldn't have decision-making ability on issues like setting insurance rates. But other conservatives, including former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, say their party is missing an opportunity to shape eligibility requirements and other details.

In a Dec. 4 Huffington Post op-ed, Frist said state exchanges "represent a distinctly American opportunity to improve our local communities with local ideas."

"Should we punt," Frist said, "or run with the ball?"