NASHVILLE - Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell today announced the creation of a task force she hopes will come up with ways to improve access to health care in the wake of last year's failure of Gov. Bill Haslam's proposed Insure Tennessee proposal.
The Nashville speaker, who is under fire for refusing to back Haslam's plan to extend Medicaid coverage to some 280,000 through use of federal dollars, made the announcement with Haslam, a fellow Republican, standing by her side.
Harwell named four Republican House members to the task force, immediately drawing criticism from legislative Democrats for not including them. They also raised questions whether the task force was a ploy for Harwell to get past her 2016 election.
Meanwhile, Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey appears to be showing little interest in having senators participate.
Harwell said she is speaking with Vanderbilt University health experts after Senate panels twice rejected Haslam's Insure Tennessee proposal, which sought to use federal funds made available under President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare.
She is calling her proposal the "3-Star Healthy Project" and has tasked Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, House Health Committee chairman, and three of his GOP committee members with delving into areas raised by her discussions with Vanderbilt experts with the goal of formulating a specific proposal.
The hope is they could ready a plan in the form of a Medicaid waiver to take before the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services in June, prior to a July 1 deadline.
Sexton said the plan could pull elements from Haslam's Insure Tennessee plan where they made sense. Harwell said she is looking for a "conservative" plan.
If CMS officials approve the plan, Harwell would still have to win approval in both the House and Senate.
Activists have been demanding Harwell to bypass legislative committees bring the Insure Tennessee bill directly to the House floor. Harwell said that even the speaker can't carry that off.
Lately, the state's wealthiest woman, Martha Ingram, has joined supporters of Insure Tennessee and has helped fund a billboard campaign that's blanketed Nashville, including Harwell's district.