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Haslam Among Republican Governors Who Believe Block Grants Would Improve Obamacare

by Editorial Staff on July 19, 2012

Gov. Bill Haslam was mentioned prominently in a Forbes piece Thursday, after he and four other GOP governors said they would consider an expansion of Medicaid under the federal health care reform law if the money were awarded as a block grant.

“Obviously, as a Republican, I’m with those folks who say, if you can block grant us Medicaid, we’d look at it differently,” Haslam said, according to Politico. The governors were at a weekend meeting of the National Governors Association in Virginia.

The block grant idea is dear to the hearts of conservatives, who say the setup would free states from onerous federal restrictions and give states the power to keep expenses in check. Governing magazine explains the history and criticism that such a plan would reduce the number of people covered, especially in times of economic strain.

The governors have the option of saying no to a Medicaid expansion in their states without losing existing Medicaid funding, based on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month that upheld the Affordable Care Act.

This week the state held a meeting at Vanderbilt to seek input on what insurers should be required to cover in plans offered in the state, according to the Tennessean:

These rules will apply to individual policies and small-employer group plans, including those offered through the state insurance exchange after Jan. 1, 2014. The federal law, often referred to as Obamacare, directs that these plans have the same level of coverage as those typically offered by a large employer. But the law leaves it up to the states to set those benchmarks. …

States have 10 basic plans currently offered by large employer groups from which to choose a benchmark, but they can modify whichever reference plan they choose.

The meeting attracted people with health complaints from loss of hearing to infertility, wanting to make sure the state’s standards would require their ailment be covered, WPLN reported.

Another component of the health care law got a boost from a Tennessean Wednesday. Former Sen. Bill Frist urged states to set up their own health insurance exchanges. The exchanges will foster competition and are “the most innovative, market-driven, and ultimately constructive part of the law,” Frist wrote in a column for The Week.

Opponents of the law have urged the opposite. The Cato Institute calls them “the new government bureaucracies” for forcing people “to purchase Obamacare’s overpriced and overregulated health insurance.”

In May, the Kaiser Family Foundation expressed doubt that Tennessee would meet a deadline to submit a plan for its exchange this fall. The state has accepted more than $9 million in federal tax dollars for planning and establishment efforts.

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