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Tennessee Governor Moves To Expand Medicaid Coverage

Gov. Bill Haslam announces his proposal to expand Medicaid in Tennessee at the state Capitol in Nashville Monday.
Erik Schelzig
Gov. Bill Haslam announces his proposal to expand Medicaid in Tennessee at the state Capitol in Nashville Monday.

Following the lead of other Republican governors, Tennessee's Gov. Bill Haslam is moving to expand Medicaid in his state, using federal funds from the Affordable Care Act. Haslam announced the plan Monday morning; it'll be debated by the legislature next month.

From Nashville, Bobby Allyn of member station WPLN reports:

"Gov. Bill Haslam said expanding Medicaid under the president's terms didn't make sense for Tennessee, a deeply red state. Instead, he sought a waiver from the president's program — going after the same goals but giving it a different name.

"Haslam said he's no fan of furthering a system he described as 'broken.' At the same time, he defended the Tennessee plan...

"Tennessee's expansion plan is expected to cover an additional 200,000 low-income residents."

With the move, Haslam becomes the third Republican governor to push for a Medicaid expansion since last month's midterm elections, The Washington Post reports, joining the leaders of Wyoming and Utah. Tuesday's edition of Morning Edition will examine similar new enthusiasm in Alaska.

The roots of these decisions date to 2012, when the Supreme Court declared two things: that the Affordable Care Act was constitutional — and that states were free to choose whether or not to expand their Medicaid programs.

Many conservative governors opted against expansion, complicating the health care law's goal of having Medicaid cover more people with lower incomes – according to this year's guidelines, it would apply to single people making up to around $16,000 a year and families of four with an income around $32,000.

This morning, WPLN reported on a push by volunteers to help Tennessee residents enroll in "Obamacare," saying that more than 2,870 people had signed up in just one zip code. The initiative focused on "areas with high numbers of uninsured people," the station says.

In North Carolina, the push to expand Medicaid led a town's mayor to walk to Washington, this summer, seeking support for the only hospital that serves his rural town of Belhaven and neighboring counties in the eastern part of the state.

In at least 20 states, the question of Medicaid expansion is either up for debate or the state's leaders have decided against it. You can see a map showing where states stand on the issue at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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