Tennessee Legislature's Task Force On Medicaid Expansion Won't Move Quickly | Nashville Public Radio

Tennessee Legislature's Task Force On Medicaid Expansion Won't Move Quickly

Apr 27, 2016

A group of Tennessee lawmakers met for the first time Tuesday to take a fresh look at expanding Medicaid.

They won't be offering any quick answers, but some members say going slowly might wind up being a good thing.

The feel as the task force started its work this week was completely different from the heated hearings of a year ago.

Instead of protesters and camera-ready speeches, a handful of lawmakers gathered around a conference table, as dozens of lobbyists strained to stay awake.

House Speaker Beth Harwell put this group together after more than a year of being criticized for not supporting Gov. Bill Haslam's plan for Medicaid expansion, Insure Tennessee. But the leader of the task force, Republican Rep. Cameron Sexton of Crossville, says it's going to be developing its own proposal.

"A year ago, the governor proposed his plan. So, we spent the time looking at Insure Tennessee and listening to him and what he was wanting to do," Sexton said. "And the General Assembly made that decision in the last two years to go in a different direction."

Nevertheless, the task force started with a two-hour review of Insure Tennessee, though it was barely mentioned by name — a sign of how politically toxic the proposal has become, especially among Republicans.

Members of the panel seemed interested in rolling out pieces of Insure Tennessee in phases. Those include charging people premiums for coverage similar to Medicaid and offering them incentives to do things like seeing a doctor.

And lawmakers want to work on ways to cancel Medicaid expansion if it costs more than expected.

Memphis Rep. Karen Camper, the group's lone Democrat, says she's hopeful something definitive will come out of it.

"I'm the eternal optimist, though," she said. "I'm not just doing this because it's something nice to do."

The task force intends to hold more such discussions, including a couple on each end of the state. It has promised to deliver a report in June, but it's unlikely lawmakers would vote on it until they return next year.

Camper says that might not be all bad. She blames politics for sinking Insure Tennessee last year — a situation that might get better after the elections in November.