Republican state lawmakers are working on a bill that would force Gov. Bill Haslam to get their permission before expanding Tennessee's health insurance program for the poor.
A House committee voted Tuesday to approve a bill that would bar the governor from unilaterally expanding TennCare, the state's Medicaid program. The measure's sponsor, state Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, said it would ensure the expansion gets the same "scrutiny" as other bills.
"We have bills to fix commas," Durham said. "I think Medicaid is important enough that we go through the regular process."
The measure, filed as an amendment to House Bill 937, would require a "joint resolution" of the state Senate and House approving TennCare expansion. Haslam has said he would not expand TennCare without seeking approval from the legislature, but the current legislation would prevent him from including TennCare expansion in a larger bill, such as the state budget.
Darin Gordon, TennCare's director, told lawmakers Tuesday that about 162,000 more Tennesseans would qualify for TennCare if it were expanded this year.
The amendment actually softens the proposal originally put forward by Durham and other GOP lawmakers. Last year, they called for a ban on Tennessee participating in Medicaid expansion.
Some lawmakers have expressed reservations about the amendment, fearing that it would make the process more cumbersome and costly.
State Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, asked if the legislature would need to be called back into session to authorize decisions usually left up to the governor and said that handling budget decisions in this manner would be more costly to taxpayers.
Durham said that the legislature would need to be called back if "force of law" was desired, although he did not believe that this would lose money.
The House Insurance and Banking Committee approved HB 937 on a voice vote Tuesday. The bill now goes to the House Finance Committee. Companion legislation has been held in the Senate Finance Committee since last April.