Local lawmakers peppered Gov. Bill Haslam with questions about his Insure Tennessee health insurance plan Wednesday morning, asking everything from details about copays, to whether the federal government is a trustworthy partner in the effort.
Chattanooga is the latest stop on the governor's statewide sprint to meet with lawmakers before the Tennessee legislature starts a special session next week to consider the plan. The proposed program aims to use federal Medicaid dollars to pay for a state-specific program they say could get more than 200,000 more people in the state health insurance, while still encouraging those people to have "skin in the game" by using a system of incentives and cost-sharing to encourage healthy living.
Haslam said after the roundtable that it is still too early to predict whether he has the votes from the legislature to pass the bill.
"There's still a lot to be heard. We're going to have a whole week full of meetings," Haslam told reporters. "We obviously feel very strongly this is the right plan for Tennessee or we wouldn't be going through this, but I think it's early for anybody to try to predict where the votes are going to come out."
The governor, TennCare Deputy Commissioner Darin Gordon and the group of lawmakers gathered for an hour at the roundtable at Cherokee Health Systems, which serves 64,000 annual patients annually — over 21,000 who are uninsured, the center's CEO Dennis Freeman said.
During the meeting, Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, asked the governor if the state would be on the hook for to continue the program indefinitely, even if it was not working.
"This is concern that I've heard," Travis said. "Will the federal government say 'You bought into it, you must continue it'?"
Haslam said that there were three solid reasons why that would not happen, including the Supreme Court decision that made Medicaid expansion optional for states. On Tuesday, Haslam said, the state's attorney general also gave an opinionsaying the state has the right to end the program any time. Along with that, Haslam received a letter Tuesday from Sec. Sylvia Burwell of the Department of Health and Human Services, which says that even if the state adopts Insure Tennessee, it can opt out at any time.
"There are some things to be concerned about. That, I feel like, is not one of them," Haslam said. "And I feel like some people have played that up — but all the evidence says that's not going to happen."
Over the last several weeks, groups that are anti-Medicaid expansion — including Americans for Prosperity and the Beacon Center — have increased ads and mailers critical of the proposed plan
Read more in Wednesday's Times Free Press.