Insure Tennessee Senate sponsor Overbey says Haslam plan uses 'conservative principles'

Candidates for attorney general wait to speak to before the members of state Supreme Court in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday, Sept. 8, 2014. From right are courts administrator Bill Young, Gov. Bill Haslam's legal adviser Herbert Slatery and state Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

NASHVILLE - The sponsor of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's Insure Tennessee legislation says he agreed to carry the measure this week after becoming "convinced" in conversations with the governor that the program "is uniquely crafted to meet our specific needs while utilizing conservative principles."

"Insure Tennessee brings market principles and individual responsibility to the program," Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, said in a statement issued today. "The program is designed to control health care costs and improve access to many working poor Tennesseans who would otherwise have no access to affordable health insurance."

Overbey decided to sponsor the resolution allowing Haslam to seeks a waiver of federal Medicaid rules to extend health coverage to some 280,000 to 300,000 low-income Tennesseans, after Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, declined to carry it.

"This program is especially important to struggling rural hospitals that lost funding under the Affordable Care Act for treating poor patients who cannot pay," Overbey said. "Unless it is approved, the loss of this funding could lead to the closure of some of our rural hospitals, meaning life and death for citizens in these areas to get to the nearest hospitals in a time of medical crisis."

Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, an opponent of Haslam's proposal, fired a political shot off Overbey's bow on Thursday with a Twitter missive.

"I would encourage @SenDougOverbey to give Arkansas Rep. John Burris a call," Kelsey tweeted.

Burris, a representative and "architect" of Arkansas' Medicaid expansion plan, lost his bid for a state Senate seat last year, according to news accounts.

Earlier this week, Overbey took Kelsey to task in a Judiciary Committee hearing where two conservative critics took aim at Haslam's plan.