Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Haslam Mulling Options on Obamacare Implementation

Posted By on Tue, Dec 4, 2012 at 7:25 AM

You'd be hard-pressed to find someone better at mulling, weighing or considering than Gov. Bill Haslam.

This is the man who responded to the absurd prospect of secession, posed with varying degrees of sincerity by over 30,000 petitioners, by saying "I don't think that's a viable option." If George W. Bush was The Decider, Bill Haslam is The Indecisive.

If you can think of a political issue, there's two sides to it, he knows what they are, and he'll have to get back to you about it later.

Presently tying the governor in knots is the question of what to do about Obamacare. Earlier this year, many Republicans hoped they wouldn't have to make this decision. The Supreme Court would surely strike down the law, they thought, and if not that, President Mitt Romney would repeal it on Day One-ish. Of course, the opposite happened in both cases.

It must be said for Haslam that he did prepare for the possibility that the law would still exist, laying groundwork for a possible exchange months ago, and holding back much of the state's surplus as a precaution. As if to enable him, the federal government extended the deadline for a decision on whether the state would set up its own insurance exchange or punt back to the feds and let them do it themselves.

And so he mulls on. Andrea Zelinski reports for The City Paper, after the jump:

Haslam has until Dec. 14 to decide who will run the exchange. For months he has repeatedly said the state can run the program better than the federal government could, but he has shied away from committing to that route. He blamed the holdup on a lack of information from Washington, D.C., on details of how exactly the state-run exchanges and federal exchanges would work.

For example, the state would have at least some power to choose which health insurance carriers could sell on the exchange, but it’s unclear which details will be up to state officials to determine and which will be prescribed by the feds.

The same goes if the state opts to let the federal government run the exchange for Tennessee. State officials say they have no clue whether that means the state would be totally hands-off or would still have a role to play. In addition, the state could decide to partner with the federal government to run the program.

The feds handed the state $9.1 million in grants to help it do the homework to figure out whether to pursue an insurance exchange. So far, state officials say they’ve spent less than $1.5 million of it, mostly on salaries and benefits for staff researching insurance exchanges, although they say they still don’t have enough details to put forth solid recommendations.

Health insurance providers have also helped look into planning for the exchange, a function they want to see done by the state. According to a spokeswoman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, that’s because state officials understand the local market better than officials in Washington.

Although Democrats in the legislature largely want to see the state run the exchanges, they’re dramatically outnumbered by Republicans in both chambers — many of whom say they’d rather leave the exchanges up to the feds.

Putting all that aside, we must note a favorite detail from Zelinski's reporting, in which she breaks down the calls Haslam's office has received about the matter.

The governor's office has received 4,000 emails, and 2,000 calls about insurance exchanges, she reports. The majority, according to Haslam's staff, urged the governor to "say No to Obamacare." But most importantly:

Almost 30 called wanting the state to secede, and eight urged nullification of Obamacare. Six called for a civil war.

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