Update: House Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh calls Haslam's letter "simply the latest in a series of farces" and "more of the same hand-wringing, ducking and dodging" from the governor.
Under fire from Democrats, Gov. Bill Haslam is trying again to put the blame on the federal government for his failure to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. He launched a new subterfuge in the media yesterday by releasing a little two-page letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The governor stamps his feet, shakes his fist and warns her that Tennessee won’t expand Medicaid unless she agrees to his terms.
So let’s get this straight. Washington is covering the cost of Medicaid expansion almost entirely, yet Haslam thinks he can make demands about how it’s done. It’s like Sebelius is trying to give Haslam a nice Christmas present and he’s refusing to take it unless she wraps it with a pretty red ribbon.
“I hope the outcome of this is for HHS to say, ‘OK, let us sit down and have serious conversations with you about how we do move forward on that,’ ” Haslam told reporters. “We’ve been having those conversations, but I think our point is, let’s put it on paper.”
Haslam obviously is playing games in the media. As the Tennessee Justice Center’s Gordon Bonnyman points out in Andy Sher’s article, the governor can’t enter into serious talks with Washington until he submits a request for a waiver from Medicaid rules as several other states already have done. He's surely known this for the past nine months — during which time he was supposed to have been already negotiating. A two-page letter doesn’t cut it.
"Tenncare certainly knows how to submit a waiver application because it has done so many times over the past 20 years," Bonnyman says. "Until Tennessee puts a concrete, detailed proposal on the table, we cannot expect these discussions to go anywhere."
In fact, Haslam knows he can’t persuade the legislature’s Republican supermajority to expand Medicaid, no matter what sort of deal he might cut with the Obama administration. The guy who’s really in charge of state government, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, has said so.
Already Haslam effectively has rejected more than $1 billion in federal money for next year—an idiocy that would have been unthinkable before the Tea Party took over the state GOP. He isn’t interested in negotiating at all, but only in dodging responsibility for damaging the state’s economy and leaving tens of thousands of working poor in Tennessee without health insurance.