The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee voted 2-6-1 against a resolution that would’ve allowed Gov. Bill Haslam to implement his version of Medicaid expansion. Six Republicans voted against the bill, with Democrat Reginald Tate of Memphis and Republican Ken Yager of Kingston voting for the bill. Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, abstained.
It’s the fourth time a Senate committee has voted on the bill, compared with no votes in any House committee.
Although the House version of the plan is still alive and theoretically could make it to the Senate, the likelihood of Insure Tennessee becoming law this year is very low.
“The governor is disappointed in the vote but glad Insure Tennessee had a chance to be heard in two different Senate committees during regular session,” said Haslam spokesman David Smith.
“As he has said, the issue has not gone away, and he will continue to work to find a way to cover more Tennesseans and address growing health care costs in the state.” Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville initially sponsored the resolution that allowed Haslam to move forward with the plan during the regular session after a GOP-backed measure failed in a special legislative session earlier this year. After a subcommittee and committee approved the plan, GOP Sens. Doug Overbey and Richard Briggs took over as lead sponsors of the resolution.
According to the sponsors “It is not an expansion to Medicaid. It is a new approach. It is a Tennessee approach,” Overbey, R-Maryville, told the committee Tuesday. Overbey sponsored the resolution during the special session, and Briggs, who also is a doctor, voted for the plan when it died in special session. Because of concerns raised during that session, lawmakers amended the latest version of Insure Tennessee.
The new plan required Haslam to wait until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the ACA case called King v. Burwell; created a six-month “lockout” for people who don’t pay Insure Tennessee premiums; and required Haslam to have a letter from federal health officials promising to let Tennessee end the program at any time.
Otherwise, the plan is the same as introduced during the special session. The plan creates two programs for people who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line: one would create vouchers for people whose employers offer insurance that they cannot afford, and a second program would create savings accounts that members could use to pay costs after partaking in healthy choices, such as appropriate use of an emergency room.
“Is Insure Tennessee Obamacare? I think you can give it a resounding no, it is not,” said Briggs, R-Knoxville.
HOW THEY VOTED
Chairman Jack Johnson, R-Franklin: No
Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville: Abstain
Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville: No
Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga: No
Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville: No
Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown: No
Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson: No
Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis: Yes
Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston: Yes