Haslam Changing Tune On Expanding Medicaid

Governor Bill Haslam is saying there’s still a chance to expand TennCare and cover more of the state’s uninsured. Last week, Haslam effectively turned down billions of dollars in federal money to expand Tennessee’s Medicaid program. But after talking with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius over the weekend, he says the federal agency is sounding more receptive to his demands.

He wants flexibility to put 180,000 people in private insurance plans instead of paying for them to have the more generous benefits on TennCare. Haslam says there’s an opportunity to take care of the working poor and try to save some government money along the way.

“Some folks say, ‘you’re off on this quest that’s really a fool’s errand because there’s no way you’ll work this out.’," Haslam said. "My argument would be, this really is a once in a lifetime chance to do it and shame on us if we don’t take this opportunity to address that.”

The governor’s tone has changed from last week, when he called the Affordable Care Act a “scandal.” But he remains reluctant to give a timeline, saying it could take a day or an entire year to work out a deal. He has also committed to letting state lawmakers weigh-in, and most in the Republican majority have had only bad things to say about expansion.