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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Haslam’s Medicaid Expansion Plan Touts Economic Benefits for Tennessee’s Low-Income Workers

Patrick Willard

Senior Director of State and National Strategic Partnerships

As Tennessee begins its new legislative session, Gov. Bill Haslam is urging legislators to support his plan to expand Medicaid in the Volunteer State. Business leaders in the state are endorsing the plan—Insure Tennessee—for its economic impact and its benefit to low-income workers.

Haslam has called for a special session of the legislature to meet February 2 to approve his Insure Tennessee plan, which would amend the state’s current Medicaid waiver. Also supporting the plan is a group made up of business, consumer, and health groups—The Coalition for a Healthy Tennessee

Business community sees Insure Tennessee plan as investment in state’s future 

In other states that have expanded Medicaid to low-income adults, advocates make the case that doing so is good for business. Haslam takes it a step further, arguing that most who would benefit are working. In its January 8 waiver amendment to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS), the state cited a Families USA issue brief highlighting the occupations and employment status of Tennesseans who would be eligible for health coverage if the state opted to expand Medicaid.

The Insure Tennessee plan has support from the Tennessee Business Roundtable and the powerful Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. Charlie Howorth, executive director of the Roundtable, and Bill Gracey, president & CEO of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, co-authored an op-ed in The Tennessean highlighting the economic benefits of the plan. Howorth and Gracey wrote in the op-ed:

“Tennessee is very competitive in industry recruitment, though it will become increasingly harder to sell companies on investment in rural Tennessee unless there is a demonstrated effort to improve workforce health and to stabilize health centers. In this regard, Insure Tennessee responds to an economic risk.”

University of Tennessee report stresses value of plan as a safety net

As legislators returned to Nashville for the opening of the 2015 session, they were greeted by a report from the University of Tennessee Center for Business and Economic Research. The report, “Who Benefits under Insure Tennessee?”, estimates that 288,000 individuals eligible for Insure Tennessee are currently in the workforce.

The report found that nearly half (46.2 percent) of the population that would qualify for Insure Tennessee is currently employed, and an additional 26.6 percent worked in the last year. 

“Given that such a large share of the Insure Tennessee population could be classified as ‘temporarily unemployed,’ Insure Tennessee would provide a vital safety net for those individuals and families trying to get back on their feet,” the University of Tennessee Center for Business and Economic Research report noted.

State would pay premiums for individuals in employer-sponsored health insurance plan 

Part of the waiver amendment would offer individuals a premium assistance program. Dubbed “the Volunteer Plan,” this program would pay the monthly premiums for individuals in an employer-sponsored health insurance plan. This would allow low-income workers to benefit from private insurance plans offered by employers. The program would pay for premiums and a portion of the deductibles and copays through a defined contribution by the state. 

Tennessee’s waiver amendment is likely to be approved by CMS. If Haslam’s Medicaid expansion plan obtains legislative approval, Tennessee will join 28 states (including the District of Columbia) that are extending affordable health coverage to low- and moderate-income adults through Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

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