Gov. Bill Haslam said he is still studying whether to add more people to the state’s TennCare rolls despite a fellow Republican declaring on national TV that the state would refuse federal money linked to expanding Medicaid.
The governor — who is getting political pressure from legislators to reject the expansion — gave no timeline for when he plans to decide whether to expand the state’s Medicaid program, although Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn told MSNBC’s Morning Joe Monday the governor would not accept the funds.
“She gets the right to say what she wants, but I feel like it’s our duty to do our homework,” Haslam told reporters after a Higher Education Commission meeting. “Medicaid/Tenncare, is such a huge portion of our budget and it keeps growing, and we have to make certain that we do everything to contain that. But also I think we have an obligation to do our homework and figure out the impact on us and the hospitals and on our citizens.”
An expansion would increase the number of people on the state’s TennCare program for low income children, pregnant women and elderly. The federal government has agreed to pay 100 percent of the costs for three years, then scale back funding to 90 percent.
Teams of Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill are already lining up to force the state to ban the TennCare expansion, saying there is no guarantee the federal government will keep its word. Meanwhile, Democrats who are signing on with a competing bill to require the expansion, point out more people would have access to health care and rural hospitals are at risk of closure without growing the program.
But neither piece of legislation will get a chance at becoming law, said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.
He said he is in no hurry to decide whether to expand the program and said he would wait for Haslam’s administration to make a recommendation. Because there is no deadline for a decision, Ramsey said he wouldn’t be surprised if that decision came later this session, after lawmakers have adjourned for the year, or after a year of watching how other states have fared. A majority of lawmakers would still have to approve the expansion for it to become law.
“Before we jump into this, I want all the facts in front of me and I’m not deciding one way or another simply because I don’t know the answers,” Ramsey told reporters. “I’m not signing onto the bill and I will encourage the sponsor of this to hold off to see, let's get the facts in front of us first.”