Ramsey: Medicaid expansion 'sellable' in Tenn.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says that if fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam succeeds in his negotiations with President Barack Obama's administration on a special Tennessee deal for Medicaid expansion, the result could be "sellable" to skeptical state lawmakers.

It's a change in tone for the Blountville Republican, who as recently as November of last year said Haslam was "wasting his time," and that he would be against an effort to expand Medicaid even if the governor could get his deal.

The biggest problem, as Ramsey sees it, is that he doesn't think the Obama administration is interested in agreeing to Haslam's proposal to have copays and deductibles and use the federal money to subsidize commercial insurance.

"If we can get to that, that may be something we can sell," Ramsey told reporters Thursday.

Ramsey said copays, deductible and personal health coaching are elements of his own health coverage in the state plan, which he said helps encourage personal responsibility.

"If you could take that down to that population and still cover them, I think that would be sellable," he said. "I'm just reluctant to think that the current administration in Washington D.C. would allow anything like that."

Haslam has said he will either strike an agreement by the end of the year or abandon his efforts for what he calls his Tennessee Plan altogether.

Health care advocates have heavily criticized Haslam for refusing last year to agree to $1.4 billion in federal funds to cover about 180,000 uninsured Tennesseans under the terms the money was offered. Nine other Republican governors have agreed to expanded Medicaid, and at least three more are in discussions with federal officials.

A Vanderbilt poll released last week said 56 percent supported expanding Medicaid for low-income Tennesseans. But any deal would likely face a tough path in both chambers of the General Assembly, where Republicans hold vast majorities.

State lawmakers earlier this year enacted legislation for the governor to obtain their approval before agreeing to Medicaid expansion in what supporters dubbed the "Stop Obamacare Act."

The governor has been guarded about any specifics of the proposal amid talks with the federal government. Ramsey said he expects the governor to release the full details of the proposal even if it is ultimately rejected on the federal level.

"He's been reluctant to put anything on the table, because everything is in negotiation," Ramsey said. "If they get closer to a final product and they turn it down, then I think you'll see that final product and see that this is what they turned down and that it looks reasonable."

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