Legislation that would have prevented Tennessee from expanding its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act is now on hold, and Gov. Bill Haslam has revealed he will make a decision regarding the state's status under the key provision by the end of the legislative session.
Reporters in Nashville conveyed the news Thursday, while Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell attended a meeting of the Tennessee Press Association. According to a Nashville City Paper report, Haslam said he had decided that he and members of the General Assembly would be "better off" to study the measure and its ramifications before recommending his decision for moving forward later this spring.
"Some people feel really strongly like we shouldn't expand Medicaid, and so they would like to go ahead and pass that. I personally think we're better off to do our homework first," Haslam was quoted saying.
Earlier in the week, GOP members of both chambers had been making strides toward approving a bill that would have effectively prevented Haslam from having a say in the matter. The bill, sponsored in the Senate by District 31 Sen. Brian Kelsey, would have prohibited the state from expanding TennCare to include those at 138 percent of poverty, a move permitted by the new health law that would bring added federal funds.
Sen. Todd Gardenhire, who represents portions of Hamilton and Bradley counties in District 10, had been one of 16 Senate members to co-sponsor the legislation, which needed only one additional vote to pass. Gardenhire had said he feared that if the state accepted the incentives offered by the government for expansion, possible cuts to the program in the future could leave taxpayers on the hook for a program many would not prefer.
But with Ramsey's pulling of the bill from the docket for a vote next week, lawmakers will have added time to review the proposal. According to a News Sentinel report, expanding TennCare rolls under the new law would potentially add an additional 145,000 enrollees to the program, which is already expected to drain the majority of added state revenues this year.
Under the provision, the federal government would fully fund additional beneficiaries to the program for the first three years of expansion. After that, federal subsidization would decrease to 90 percent of the expansion. Hospital leaders have said that if expansion does not occur, as many as 90,000 hospital jobs could be eliminated, according to a WPLN report.
Regardless of Haslam's recommendation, any decision to expand TennCare will require approval from the General Assembly.