Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee on Monday morning became the latest Republican governor to announce support of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion —and the third in the nation since Republicans gained more power at the state and federal levels in the November midterm elections.
Like most other Republican governors who want to take the health-care law’s generous federal funding, Haslam is now offering a plan that deviates from the Medicaid expansion envisioned under the Affordable Care Act. Haslam, who made the announcement almost a month after his re-election, said the Obama administration has verbally approved the approach.
“We think we have a plan in Tennessee that fits our citizens and also is an answer to budget challenges we’d face in the future,” Haslam said during a press conference Monday morning.
The Tennessee plan, which Haslam said will be debated by a special session of the state legislature, is a two-year wavier program with two tracks. It will offer vouchers to people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — or about $16,100 for an individual — to help purchase employer coverage they would otherwise struggle to afford. Other newly eligible individuals can sign up in health plans modeled after health reimbursement accounts, with people earning above the poverty level required to pay premiums and copays. Haslam’s administration didn’t immediately offer details about how those payments are structured.
In Tennessee, about 142,000 low-income adults fall into what’s known as the coverage gap — people who earn too much to qualify for the existing Medicaid program but not enough to qualify for subsidies to purchase private coverage on the Obamacare health insurance marketplaces. That’s according to a November estimate from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which finds that 3.8 million poor adults across the country fall into this gap.
Haslam’s announcement comes after almost a year-and-a-half of discussions with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services over an acceptable Medicaid expansion alternative. That may have been the easiest part for Haslam, who joins Matt Mead of Wyoming and Gary Herbert of Utah in offering a Medicaid expansion plan in the month since the midterms passed.
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