Paranoia derails Medicaid expansion in Tennessee

In this March 27, 2013, file photo, Gov. Bill Haslam speaks to a joint session of the Legislature in Nashville, Tenn.
In this March 27, 2013, file photo, Gov. Bill Haslam speaks to a joint session of the Legislature in Nashville, Tenn.
It was a terrific breakthrough for health care, arithmetic, and common sense: Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R), following lengthy negotiations with federal officials, announced Medicaid expansion would come to the Volunteer State. The governor's "Insure Tennessee" plan would cover 280,000 low-income Tennesseans, all while improving state finances.
The vast majority of the costs would be covered by federal funds, and in an amazing twist, state hospitals in Tennessee pledged to cover the state's remaining burden, ensuring that the state government wouldn't have to pay anything at all.
All state Republican lawmakers had to do was accept the free money and all of the many benefits. Yesterday, they appear to have killed the whole package.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam's alternative plan to expand Medicaid under Obamacare was dealt a devastating blow on Wednesday, when a Senate panel rejected it on the third day of a legislative special session called solely for that issue. [...] The 7-4 vote against the plan by the state Senate Health and Welfare Committee came after impassioned testimony on both sides of the debate. The plan has little chance of being revived during the regular legislative session.

As the Politico report noted, the Republican governor's proposal enjoyed the enthusiastic backing of the Tennessee Hospital Association, the Tennessee Business Roundtable, and the Tennessee Medical Association.
But state GOP lawmakers rejected it anyway, and it's worth appreciating the paranoia that drove the opposition.

Yet the head of the conservative Beacon Center of Tennessee suggested the state could be locking itself into expansion long term, even if it wants to get out. Although the federal government has said it is voluntary and can be rolled back if a state chooses, CEO Justin Owen said expansion may not be so easily undone. "Can you trust the federal government?" he asked Tuesday during a House Insurance and Banking Committee hearing.

Got that? Looking ahead, 280,000 low-income Tennesseans will have no access to basic medical care, state finances will suffer, and state hospitals will face wildly unnecessary budget problems, in part because some on the right believe Washington may be playing an elaborate ruse on state governments.
It's true that yesterday's vote only pointed to the wishes of a state Senate committee, and it's at least possible that the governor's plan could still advance, but several GOP leaders in the legislature have balked at the proposal, too.
One of the best deals Tennessee has ever been offered appears to be dead. What a pointless tragedy.