TN Democrat calls Haslam's Medicaid letter a farce

A letter about Medicaid expansion that Gov. Bill Haslam sent to Washington this week is "simply the latest in a series of farces," according to a leading Democratic state legislator.

"It's more of the same hand-wringing, ducking and dodging we've come to expect from this administration, all in an attempt to absolve themselves of the worst moral and mathematical failure in a generation — denying health care to 330,000 working Tennesseans," said House Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley.

But the federal agency overseeing state Medicaid expansions as part of the Affordable Care Act welcomes continued dialogue with Gov. Bill Haslam, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said.

"We welcome continued conversations with Tennessee about developing a state-based solution that meets both the state's unique needs and the requirements of the Medicaid program, while providing much needed coverage to thousands of Tennesseans," said Fabien Levy, press secretary for the agency. "HHS stands ready to work with states to explore options that improve care and lower costs in the Medicaid program."

Halsam released to the public Monday a letter laying out his thoughts on expanding Medicaid in the state. The governor in March announced that he would delay any decision while talks continued with the federal agency. The letter recaps discussions between Tennessee and federal officials and points out some sticking points in negotiations but offers no new suggestions.

"Governor Haslam is seeking to offer lower-quality care to fewer people and still collect all the money allocated in the Medicaid expansion — that is not something that Secretary Sebelius has the power to authorize, and he knows that," said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. "If Governor Haslam is going to negotiate seriously with CMS on creating a 'Tennessee Plan,' it needs to be done in a way that both conforms to federal law and appreciates the economic, fiscal and moral blunder that would result from a decision not to expand Medicaid."

As governors throughout the country have announced their decisions on Medicaid expansion, Haslam has not taken a definitive action one way or the other. Governors moving forward with Medicaid expansion include the Republican governors of Arizona, Michigan and Ohio.

The federal government will pick up 100 percent of the costs of insuring people newly eligible for Medicaid through expansion of the state programs until 2016. It will then phase down to a permanent 90 percent matching rate in 2020.

The federal health law allows for expansion of Medicaid to individuals making $15,856 and a family of four with a household income less than $32,499.


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