Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) on Monday became the latest GOP governor to endorse Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, unveiling a two-year pilot program that will use federal dollars to extend health care to low-income residents who don’t currently qualify for the program.
According to the Tennessean, Haslam’s plan will use the funding designated for the states that accept the expansion to allow people to choose between two private plans. It has the potential to extend coverage to more than 160,000 Tennesseans, if the final program uses the same income threshold — 133 percent of the federal poverty line — that most Medicaid expansion plans do.
“This is an alternative approach that forges a different path and is a unique Tennessee solution,” Haslam, who has repeatedly refused to accept a traditional version of the health law’s Medicaid expansion, said in a statement on Monday. “Our approach is responsible and reasonable, and I truly believe that it can be a catalyst to fundamentally changing health care in Tennessee.”
The news comes on the heels of a somewhat discouraging outlook for Medicaid expansion, which has continued to be blocked in a handful of GOP-led states — preventing millions of low-income people from accessing affordable health care and keeping the national uninsurance rate at least two percentage points higher than it would be otherwise. The recent midterm election didn’t result in any gains for Medicaid supporters, since the outcome of key gubernatorial races left the national landscape largely unchanged.
Nonetheless, there has still been some recent momentum toward implementing the policy, thanks to the Department of Health and Human Services’ willingness to give states a little flexibility. Compromise between Republican state officials and the federal government has been instrumental in convincing GOP-led states to implement this particular Obamacare provision. Red states like Arkansas, Oklahoma,and Iowa have indicated a willingness to move ahead with similar privatized plans to cover additional low-income residents.
Pennsylvania kicked off enrollment in its new version of Medicaid expansion at the beginning of December, after getting the alternate plan approved by the federal government earlier this year. Meanwhile, Republican leaders in Utah and Wyoming appear to be getting closer to implementing their own versions of the policy. And Virginia Giv. Terry McAuliffe (D) continues to negotiate with the GOP-controlled legislature to find a way to expand Medicaid in his state.
Tennessee’s implementation of Medicaid expansion could especially be a boon to the rural hospitals in the state, some of which have been forced to close without the policy. Medicaid expansion helps reduce struggling hospitals’ uncompensated care costs because it ensures they’re treating fewer uninsured people.