Two Months After Apparent Demise, Insure Tennessee Health Plan Gets A Second Life | Nashville Public Radio

Two Months After Apparent Demise, Insure Tennessee Health Plan Gets A Second Life

Mar 30, 2015

No big meetings of the minds. No closed-door bargaining. No secret strategizing by Insure Tennessee's supporters.

Left for dead two months ago, Gov. Bill Haslam's plan to expand Medicaid is showing renewed signs of vigor. Its surprise return, say backers, is the result of a steady effort to keep the proposal alive since early February, when Tennessee lawmakers seemed to kill it during a special session.

"We've never stopped working on it," Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville), "and I think you'll see that there are people all across Tennessee that have never stopped working on it."

Critics of Insure Tennessee say they're worried high costs will force them to pull the plug in 2017, when the state has to start carrying some of the financial load.

Sen. Becky Duncan Massey with Gov. Bill Haslam
Credit TN Photo Services

But advocates say that without Insure Tennessee, a quarter-million people are almost certain to be entirely uninsured — leaving their families, hospitals and the state on the hook to pay for their care. Sen. Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville) says she's heard from dozens of potential Insure Tennessee beneficiaries, who have told her the risk of losing insurance later is better than going without it now.

"If they had the opportunity to take for two years or not at all, they were good with just the two years."

The chance to get Insure Tennessee moving again finally came last week, when the Senate Health Committee took up Senate Joint Resolution 93. The proposal is essentially the same that lawmakers rejected in the special session, but this panel is loaded with lawmakers who have been receptive to the idea from the start.

Massey joined the committee's lone Democrat, Yarbro, and four Republicans to approve the measure. 

But now Insure Tennessee faces more formidable hurdles. Two more hearings are likely, before the Senate Commerce Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. Both include more skeptics of the proposal.

Several hearings also are needed in the state House of Representatives. But House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) says supporters shouldn't get daunted.

"We need to take it a step at a time. I think the possibilities of getting it out of that first subcommittee are pretty significant. And then you move on."

Fitzhugh believes each victory for Insure Tennessee can build momentum for the proposal. But as backers saw in February, all it takes is one defeat to stop it.