Seeing no change in Legislature, Haslam says little hope for passing Insure Tennessee in 2016

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam talks about the commitment the state has made to Volkswagen in this file photograph from October.
photo Chattanooga City Council member Chris Anderson speaks as a committee discusses a proposed change in the city's sound ordinance in October of 2014.

NASHVILLE - While city councils in Chattanooga and Knoxville are urging Tennessee lawmakers to approve Gov. Bill Haslam's proposed Insure Tennessee plan, the governor himself sees little change of heart among his GOP colleagues who dominate the General Assembly.

"Last [session], when somebody said, 'Will you bring it up next year?' I said, 'Well, something will have to change' because it wasn't like we just barely lost," the Republican told Nashville Rotary Club members last week.

The governor added: "Something will have to change in the state or on the national scene for that to happen. To be frank, I haven't seen anything that's [given] me that kind of encouragement."

Senate committees twice killed the governor's idea of using federal Affordable Care Act dollars to extend Medicaid to an estimated 280,000 low-income Tennesseans.

Critics are philosophically opposed, but note their concerns also include issues such as costs to the state and whether Tennessee could get out of the program.

Advocates, including the Tennessee Justice Center, are pushing to get the program in front of state lawmakers again in their legislative session that begins Jan. 12.

Earlier this month, the Chattanooga City Council joined in, passing a symbolic resolution in support. It was approved on a 6-3 vote.

Councilman Chris Anderson, who sponsored the resolution, said it was important to advocate for an estimated 25,000 Hamilton County residents who don't have access to affordable health insurance.

These people are largely the working poor: adults who don't qualify for traditional Medicaid coverage and don't earn enough to obtain the federally subsidized insurance on health care exchanges.

"We represent them. We represent people who need help. We are the voice of the people who are closest to the people, and it's absolutely in the purview of this council to make those voices heard," Anderson said when arguing for his resolution.

In Knoxville, City Council members approved a similar resolution last week, saying they hoped it would help build new support across the state.

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero said: "I think we're recognizing both from the mayor's office and City Council that we have many people in our city who could benefit from Insure Tennessee, from the expansion of the Medicaid, Medicare program, so I hope we will get some action on it," WBIR-TV reported.

The governor told Nashville Rotarians that, "there's been a statewide effort to rally the cause, but I haven't noticed a changing public opinion and definitely haven't seen a change in our legislature."

"My sense is there will be a lot of people waiting to see what happens in the '16 presidential election - just, again, to be as honest as I can - before they'll do that," Haslam said. "We would still love it to happen. We still think it's the right thing to do. Nothing I've seen since then has changed my mind."

Contact Andy Sher at, 615-255-0550 or follow via twitter @AndySher1.