Gov. Bill Haslam remains undecided on whether Tennessee will expand its Medicare program under a key provision of the Affordable Care Act, more than one month after he opted against the state establishing its own health care exchange.
Haslam told Nashville Public Radio station WPLN Thursday that he saw the choice on expanding TennCare—Tennessee's Medicare program—to include those at 138 percent of poverty as not bearing any weight on budget decisions for this year.
"There is no deadline on making that decision, so we will have a budget this time that we'll present in 12 days that won't address that question because we haven't made a decision yet," the governor was quoted saying.
In June, a United States Supreme Court ruling offered governors the chance to decide on expanding their own states' Medicaid programs. TennCare offers health care to approximately 1.2 million state residents, primarily low-income children, pregnant women, the elderly and disabled.
Haslam is expected to outline chief components of his budget when he lays out his legislative agenda before the General Assembly on Jan. 28 during his annual State of the State address. But his speech will not likely include any mention of whether the state will opt to add hundreds of thousands to TennCare rolls in exchange for hundreds of millions of federal dollars offered in the new health law.
Although the added cash would cover a large portion of new enrollees, Haslam and state officials have expressed concerns that costs may still be too high for an expansion because of a potentially large number of newly eligible beneficiaries.
Another hook is that after the first few years of implementation, federal subsidization of new TennCare enrollees would be reduced, leaving Tennessee to pay potentially upward of tens of millions of additional dollars on top of costs already outlined in the health care plan. In a budget presentation to Haslam last year, TennCare Chief Darin Gordon told the governor that implementation costs for the new law in Tennessee could be as much as $200 million over the next five and a half years.