Amid ongoing failures on health care in congress, Tennessee Democrats are asking Gov. Bill Haslam to call a special session and expand Medicaid eligibility.
In another longshot bid to provide hundreds of thousands of low-income Tennesseans with government-funded affordable health care, Tennessee Democrats are asking Gov. Bill Haslam to call a special legislative session to take up expanding Medicaid eligibility.
The move comes after the failure of the latest Republican attempt in the U.S. Senate to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
“Congress has wasted many years and billions of dollars because of partisan bickering, while the physical and fiscal health of Tennessee’s families has been left in the balance. Now is the time to roll up our sleeves at the state level and go to work on behalf of our constituents,” said Craig Fitzhugh, House minority leader and a Democratic candidate for governor, in a news release.
In 2015, a Haslam-called special session to take up a measure called Insure Tennessee – a proposal to provide health coverage to thousands of low-income residents. The measure failed without coming close to passage, and failed again during that year’s regular legislative session.
Since that failure Haslam has repeatedly said he does not think a new special session would create a new result, a sentiment he repeated Thursday morning.
“Obviously, I’d hoped that Washington would come up with some better answers,” Haslam said.
“I’m frustrated that nothing has happened. I don’t think that a special session, we would get any different result that the last time we got a special session.”
House Republican leadership bashed the idea of a special session.
“As speaker of the House, I believe that instead of calling for a wasteful special session to expand a program that is failing, we as State Representatives and Senators should instead call on Congress to return healthcare back to the states without strings attached so we can begin to develop a better, more affordable program for Tennesseans.” said Speaker Beth Harwell in an emailed statement.
Still, Fitzhugh and the Democrats believe the state must act now amid threats from President Donald Trump and Congress to take acts that will undermine the current federal health care system.
“Since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Tennessee has forgone billions of dollars in federal funding,” Fitzhugh said in the news release.
“Not only have working Tennesseans gone without healthcare, but we have watched as hospitals have closed across the state, making many regions of Tennessee less safe and crippling them financially.”
House Health Committee Chairman Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, pushed back on Twitter Thursday, arguing expansion is still a costly proposition for states. While federal funds cover the vast majority of the expanded eligible population, Sexton and others have argued the remaining portion of costs may still be too much for states.
During the 2017 legislative session Democratic lawmakers pushed for Medicaid expansion. Although they believe Haslam has the authority to expand Medicaid without legislative approval, Haslam has said he will not expand Medicaid without the backing of the General Assembly.
Lawmakers return to Nashville in January for the state of the 2018 regular session.
Reach Dave Boucher at 615-259-8892, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.