Tuesday, January 29, 2013

To the Distress of Republicans, Sick People Intrude into State's ObamaCare Debate

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 1:55 PM

Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes
  • Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes
Not wishing to look like a knuckle-dragging Obama hater, Gov. Bill Haslam insists he’s giving “careful thought and consideration” to whether to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Many Republicans want to reject ObamaCare immediately. But some of Haslam's allies, even knuckle-dragging Obama haters like Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, are down with his approach.

Last night after Haslam’s State of the State speech, Ramsey said: “I’m with the governor. I try to make reasoned, thoughtful decisions,” producing guffaws in the Legislative Plaza pressroom. Ramsey then predicted Tennessee will go ahead and refuse to expand Medicaid once all this careful thinking is finished.

Republicans are framing the entire issue as strictly a budget problem, as if sick people without health insurance coverage don’t exist in this state. Introducing sick people into this debate only serves to make Republicans uncomfortable, so at no time during this week’s budget briefings has any state official—from the governor on down—ever mentioned them. That is until today when conservative Sen. Douglas Henry, of all people, brought them up while questioning Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes.

Logically, Henry wanted to know why Tennessee wouldn’t expand Medicaid for the Affordable Care Act's first three years, at least. That's when the feds are picking up all the cost and it’s free to the state government. Later, if it’s thought to cost too much, the state could reconsider.

“Do we have the option of accepting it for three years and then cutting it off?” Henry asked during Senate Finance Committee hearings.

“That option does exist,” Emkes conceded. “I wasn’t here back in 2005 when we took people off Medicaid. I’ve just heard the stories that people were chained to the state Capitol. So we can do that and nothing is impossible. We can take the free money for three years and then decrease the enrollment and not go forward. But from what I’ve heard, it’s not impossible to do but it would be messy to do.”

Yes, it could lead to political difficulties for state officials, but as Henry pointed out, many more Tennesseans would have medical care in the meantime.

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