They dismissed the possibility that their actions might backfire by ladling another big dollop of partisan politics into the controversy. That might scare away Haslam and cause the governor to reject the whole deal just as it was beginning to look like he felt it was safe to go the other way. New Jersey's Chris Christie today became only the latest GOP governor to support Medicaid expansion, and some observers see opposition crumbling all over the country.
“We have been patient with the administration to make that decision but, if we continue to wait, we will lose our opportunity to be able to present this point because the committees will be closing. We are six weeks from going home so the time to address the issue is now,” Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle told reporters.
“I don’t see how a legislator can put in their brochure that they are pro-life if they are going to turn their backs on the lives of 300,000 Tennesseans on a life-or-death issue like health care.”
That’s the number of Tennesseans who would gain coverage under the expansion, according to Democrats. They said 24 hospitals in rural parts of the state—all of which have lost money over the past three years—are at risk of closing if Republicans refuse to expand Medicaid.
“It’s a decision not about politics but about jobs and people,” House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said. “Unfortunately our general assembly has been in session for more than a month now and we’ve spent most of that time on fairly trivial matters. It’s time for us to do what the people sent us here to do and tackle the elephant in the room.”
The governor “enjoys a very high approval rating because the people trust him to lead and now’s the time for him to do that,” Fitzhugh added. “Now’s the time for him to take that approval rating and do something with it that really matters for a lot of Tennesseans. Democrats are here to get that conversation started.”
The Tennessee Hospital Association, meanwhile, released a poll showing 59 percent of Tennesseans think the state should accept the federal dollars for expanding Medicaid coverage.