Haslam: Latest GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare is 'home run for Tennessee'

Haslam: Latest GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare is 'home run for Tennessee'

Governor signs letter with his counterparts endorsing Graham-Cassidy bill; state Democrats and advocates call foul

September 20th, 2017 by Andy Sher and Dave Flessner in Breaking News

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam speaks during the 76th annual Meeting and Luncheon of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau at the Chattanooga Convention Center Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Haslam talked about the tourism and hospitality industry's force as an economic driver throughout Hamilton County and Tennessee.

Photo by Erin O. Smith

Document: Letter from 15 Republican governors

Haslam and fellow Republicans say that the proposal from U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana represents the "last, best hope" to replace Obamacare.

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The latest Affordable Care Act repeal-and-replace proposal is "a home run for Tennessee," Gov. Bill Haslam, R-Tenn., said Wednesday.

Haslam, who testified this month before a Senate health panel considering changes to Obamacare, said Tennessee should end up with more money and more choices under the plan from U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La. The Trump administration and GOP leaders are backing the plan.

Though other governors and Tennessee hospitals oppose the measure, Haslam told reporters Wednesday in Chattanooga the Graham-Cassidy bill will reallocate federal health care dollars in a way that boosts Tennessee's share.

"We would take all of the money from the Affordable Care Act and reapportion it on a per-capita basis to all of the states. Because Tennessee didn't take any of the Medicaid expansion money [from Obamacare], we'll actually probably bring in about five times as much money out of the Affordable Care Act as we would before," Haslam said after a speech to the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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"It's flat-out good for Tennessee," said Haslam, who earlier this week joined 14 fellow GOP governors in a letter supporting the legislation.

But Tennessee Senate Democrats quickly tweeted that the "claim by @BillHaslam that Graham-Cassidy is a home run is demonstrably false. TN loses $61 BILLION 2020-36."

Democrats pointed to a 50-state analysis by Avalere, a health-care consulting firm, that found Tennessee and other states would collectively lose $215 billion through 2026 and more than $4 trillion over a 20-year period.

The analysis estimated Tennessee could indeed gain $3 billion from 2020 to 2026.

But Avalere also warned the Graham-Cassidy bill as written creates "a block grant funding cliff in 2027" that could affect Congress' ability to appropriate additional funding.

Avalere said that "by 2027, states would see significantly larger declines in funding compared to current law, with 39 states and DC facing funding cuts, and 18 states with reductions of greater than $1 billion."

From 2020 to 2027, Avalere said the collective loss could be a staggering $61 billion, the figure cited by Tennessee Democrats.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said he's supporting the measure at this point.

"From the beginning of this debate, I have said that I want to generate an outcome that is better for the American people than what is in place today, and at present, I am very encouraged by the fact that the Graham-Cassidy legislation repeals the core elements of Obamacare and its one-size-fits-all approach and provides the flexibility governors across our country have been seeking for years," he said in a statement.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the Senate Health Committee chairman, worked for several weeks on a bipartisan plan to temporarily fix the Affordable Care Act's immediate funding and coverage issue. On Tuesday that collapsed, with GOP lawmakers making a last-ditch effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.

"I would like to vote for Graham-Cassidy because I like block grants and it appears to be good for Tennessee," Alexander said.

According to Haslam, Tennessee's potential gains could come at the expense of other states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, which is drawing opposition from many in those states.

Others, including the Tennessee Hospital Association, worry the promised flexibility and the cap on future Medicaid payments may mean some procedures and medical treatments would not be covered by insurance.

"As health care providers, we understand the need to re-examine and make improvements to the ACA," said Craig Becker, president of the Tennessee Hospital Association. "However, the Graham-Cassidy proposal falls woefully short."

Becker said the reform plan threatens "steep cuts to Medicare providers, and elimination of the Prevention and Public Health Fund." He called the proposal "a nonstarter for a much-needed healthcare solution."

Haslam said he backs a plan that "responsibly and adequately funds block grants to states and provides maximum flexibility and control to states."

He said the Graham-Cassidy legislation "can meet both of these provisions and benefit Tennesseans by returning more of Tennesseans' taxpayer dollars to the state to serve the health care needs of our citizens."

The governor recently testified before Alexander's health committee on the search for a short-term fix for the ACA.

Meanwhile, Corker is coming under fire for backing the Graham-Cassidy proposal.

David Bergstein with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee charged that Corker's "latest health care proposal will gut coverage for pre-existing conditions — breaking his promise to protect these vital services and spiking costs for hardworking families."

"If Senator Corker has his way," Bergstein added, "Tennessee's working families could lose coverage for everything from cancer treatment to pregnancy services, and in 2018 voters will hold him accountable for his toxic and expensive agenda."

But coverage for pre-existing conditions, which Obamacare now protects, is also an issue for disabled Tennesseans.

Carol Westlake, executive director of the Tennessee Disability Coalition, said in a tweet from her personal Twitter account that the "Graham-Cassidy bill has the same flaws as the harmful proposals from earlier this year. Please vote no @SenBobCorker @SenAlexander."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6320.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.

This story was updated Sept. 20 at 11:45 p.m.