Tennessee governor strikes deal on Medicaid

Tennessee has struck a tentative deal with the federal government to become the latest red state to expand Medicaid under ObamaCare, Gov. Bill Haslam (R) announced Monday.

Haslam said he has received “verbal approval” from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to move forward with a new pilot plan to help about 200,000 low-income Tennesseans gain coverage.

The state’s plan veers from the traditional route of expanding Medicaid, and is on track to receive a windfall of federal dollars.

“We believe Tennessee has generally described an approach that could be approvable,” an HHS spokesman told The Hill.

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The Republican governor said he will call a special legislative session early next year because “something this important to this many Tennesseans should have its own focus.”

“I truly believe Ensure Tennessee can be a catalyst to fundamentally changing healthcare in Tennessee,” Haslam said in a briefing Monday about one month after he coasted through reelection.

The expansion plan will likely face a tough test in Tennessee’s GOP-controlled state legislature, where the Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris has complained that Haslam is leaving lawmakers out of talks.

Earlier this year, lawmakers passed a bill dubbed the Stop Obamacare Act that requires the governor to seek approval from the legislature before expanding Medicaid.

The Tennessee governor is also the incoming chairman of the Republican Governors Association, following New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who also expanded Medicaid in his state.

Three other Republican governors have been in talks with the administration this year: Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

The move leaves 20 states — all but three run by Republican governors — that have not expanded eligibility for Medicaid. 

The Democratic governors of Missouri, Montana and Virginia have also been unable to muscle the expansion through their GOP-controlled legislatures.

The federal government has agreed to cover the brunt of costs for the extra Medicaid recipients for several years.  But the expansion has remained a divisive issue among Republicans who fear that states would be left with massive healthcare bills that continue to grow after the federal dollars dry up.

The process for approving a state’s Medicaid expansion is lengthy.

After it gains legislature approval, the state must open up the plan to public comments for 30 days before submitting it to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services.

The plan must then undergo a 30-day public comment period at the federal level, which is followed by at least 15 days of comment consideration. 

—This post was updated at 1:27 p.m.