Tennessee Senate votes to limit Haslam on TennCare

The Tennessee Senate voted Thursday to require Gov. Bill Haslam to get lawmakers' permission before expanding TennCare.

Senators voted 23-6 to approve a measure that passed the state House of Representatives last week that would prevent Haslam from expanding TennCare unilaterally. Haslam has said he does not object to the measure because he already plans to seek their approval for any expansion plan.

Senators also added language that would keep them from being paid if Haslam were to call a special session on TennCare, the state's Medicaid program. The amendment means the House will have to vote on the bill a second time before it heads to Haslam's desk.

The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, calls on states to offer Medicaid to more of the poor, and the law requires the federal government to cover the full cost of expansion until 2017 and at least 90 percent through 2020. But Haslam said last March that he would not expand TennCare until federal officials approve a "Tennessee Plan" in which the newly eligible would receive coverage modeled after private health insurance.

Supporters of House Bill 937 say it will hold the governor to his word without tying his hands while he negotiates with federal officials. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson said it gives Haslam an excuse for inaction.

"I don't see it as tying the governor's hands so much as it gives the governor an out," he said.


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