Gov. Bill Haslam announced this morning that Tennessee will not accept federal funds to expand Medicaid, and instead will pursue his "third option" for healthcare reform (He compared his plan to reform the healthcare system to how he wants to reform the school system, of course). More on that here.
In response to the announcement, the Tennessee GOP released this statement from party chair Chris Devaney:
"Once again, Governor Haslam has proven he is a man of principle. He took his time to thoroughly research this issue and gather all the facts. Instead of merely providing an answer that was politically motivated, he dutifully went about the business of being a true leader. In the era of instant gratification, that is a lost art. I'm proud Governor Haslam has stood strong for the best interests of Tennesseans."
Sen. Lamar Alexander had this tidbit to offer: "I trust Governor Haslam to do what is in the best interest of Tennesseans. I will do all I can to help the state get the flexibility he has asked for."
Meanwhile, the state Democratic Party chair Roy Herron invoked the Bible in his response to Haslam's decision.
"Deuteronomy 30 urges us to 'choose life,' but self-proclaimed 'pro-life' Republicans applauded the governor denying health insurance to 300,000 Tennesseans in working families, even though that means each week another parent, another child, another loved one--or two--will die," Herron said in a press release. "Tennessee should choose science instead of selfishness, people instead of politics, life instead of death."
The General Assembly Democratic Caucus called Haslam's announcement "a 'no' dressed up as a year of delayed action and indecision" in a press release, and called the governor out for his lack of leadership.
"I truly believed that the governor was going to use this opportunity to show real leadership," House Democrat Craig Fitzhugh said in the release. "Instead we've seen more of the hand-wringing and delayed action that we've become accustomed to. Lives will be lost while we wait for a real decision."
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner was a little more pointed in his criticism of Haslam.
"This is a time when the people of Tennessee need clear, precise, and bold leadership, and Governor Haslam offered none of that today. It's a failure of our moral obligation to protect the health and welfare of the most vulnerable among us. It's a failure that will be paid with the lives of the working poor in our state. This is quite simply shameful," Turner said.
The Democrats cited the Tennessee Hospital's Association's projection that the non-expansion of Medicaid will cost workers 90,000 jobs, and the state $13 billion.
Knoxville's Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson shared her view of the announcement on Twitter.
"The hybrid plan will cost twice as much as Medicaid!" she tweeted. "Our governor has forgotten 300,000 Tennesseans who need health care. This is unacceptable. He has turned down one billion dollars to help Tennesseans."
The Tennessee Health Care Campaign, a nonprofit healthcare consumer advocacy group who lobbied for the Medicaid expansion, was also less than thrilled with the announcement.
"To say that we are disappointed would be an understatement," Brad A. Palmertree, the organization's interim executive director, said in a press release. "Governor Haslam had the opportunity to show real leadership for the people of Tennessee. We all know that those who need insurance the most are usually the ones who cannot afford it. Because of his decision, there will still be hundreds of thousands of uninsured Tennesseans. These will be children who will go without needed vaccinations, baby boomers who will continue to put off needed care, and individuals living with disabilities without needed aids."
The Tennessee Justice Center also chimed in with a press release, calling Haslam's announcement "a tragic disappointment."
"We know what opponents of providing [healthcare] coverage to working families apparently do not know. We understand that rejecting the [federal] money will mean more suffering in Tennessee," the release states. "We see the toll it takes when, hard as you work, you cannot provide health insurance for your family. We know that opponents don't understand these consequences, because only someone with a heart of stone could understand and still begrudge their neighbors the health security that they and their own families have."
AARP Tennessee was also "disappointed," and concerned about the needs of people living at, or near, poverty who depend on hospitals to pay for their care. But the organization's press release remained optimistic.
"We are glad that Governor Haslam continues to be interested in finding a way to provide health insurance for hard-working folks and their families," Rebecca Kelly, the state director for AARP Tennessee, said in the release. "We are anxious to learn more about the Tennessee Plan and will work with the governor and the Legislature to arrive at the best solution for Tennessee."
Last summer the Supreme Court ruled that states were not obligated to accept the federal government's funds to expand Medicaid, but could do so if they wished. The federal government would have picked up 100 percent of the tab for the expansion until 2020, when it would reduce its contribution to 90 percent.
It was estimated that about 300,000 more people in Tennessee would have been eligible for Medicaid benefits had the program been expanded.
Haslam's plan would provide federal dollars to purchase private health insurance. He estimates about 175,000 people will be eligible for this benefit.