By Nathan Baker
Regional health care providers said Wednesday they are willing to support Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision to opt out of a Medicaid expansion and to instead purchase coverage from private insurers for 175,000 uninsured Tennessee residents, but urged a speedy resolution to federal opposition to his proposed plan.
“For us, whether they can get it through an exchange, or provide coverage to people through an expansion, we’re fine with it,” Marvin Eichorn, chief financial officer and senior vice president of Mountain States Health Alliance, said hours after Haslam’s address to the General Assembly. “It gets to the same place at the end of the day, so I don’t think it changes the basic method that we’ve been presenting.”
Since Haslam first voiced opposition to increasing TennCare’s rolls to include more uninsured state residents, hospital administrators across the state have warned lawmakers of the consequences of the pending elimination of federal funds included as part of the Affordable Care Act, which were intended to be replaced by state Medicaid expansion.
“The cuts in the new law we are taking are large, as much as half-a-billion dollars across the whole system,” Eichorn said. “Those are going to happen irrespective of whether the state accepts this funding or not, so it’s vitally important for the citizens in the state that some sort of coverage system is set up before they take effect.”
He estimated that 9 percent of the system’s services are provided free to those without means to pay, at a cost of $60 million each year.
Recent data collected through a health survey conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows that 19 percent of Carter County’s residents and 18 percent in Johnson County are uninsured.
“These are folks that would largely be covered under the new exchange, which would go a long way toward covering that cost,” he said.
A media release from Wellmont Health System spokesperson Jim Wozniak asked the governor’s administration to provide more specifics on the new plan.
“Gov. Haslam’s alternative approach to the federal government’s plan is potentially promising if it can be achieved,” the release stated. “Wellmont will need to see additional details about the governor’s proposal, but it remains essential that health insurance coverage be expanded in Tennessee.”