- Associated Press - Monday, January 12, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A University of Tennessee economic study commissioned by advocates for expanding Medicaid says Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee could create 15,000 jobs and bring $1.14 billion in new spending to the state.

According to the study released Monday by UT’s Center for Business and Economic Research, an estimated 200,000 of the 470,000 eligible Tennesseans would participate in Haslam’s proposed version of Medicaid expansion. The $1.14 billion figure comes from an estimated $5,705 in medical spending by each of those 200,000 people.

The study was commissioned by the Coalition for a Healthy Tennessee. That’s a nonprofit formed by a group of business, health care and civic groups from across the state that supports expanding insurance for those who cannot afford it.

More than 30 percent of Tennessee’s uninsured would qualify for Insure Tennessee, according to the study, which advocates for Insure Tennessee. The study’s introduction says the program would lead to a “healthier population, a more productive workforce, and more effective public health interventions.”

The study also looked at the demographics of the population that would be eligible for Insure Tennessee, which it found to be 51 percent male, 74 percent white and living mostly in cities and rural areas, not suburbs.

About 5 percent of those eligible are veterans. About 46 percent are currently employed. Another 27 percent have held a job within the past year. About 34 percent are currently receiving food stamps. About 50 percent currently have no health insurance.

Haslam has called a special legislative session to take up his Insure Tennessee proposal starting Feb. 2.

If approved, the two-year pilot program would use federal funds available under President Barack Obama’s health care law. Haslam has said it would embrace what he calls a market-based approach that includes incentives for healthier living.

The Beacon Center of Tennessee, a conservative think tank that opposes Medicaid expansion, was dismissive of the report’s findings.

“To say that it boosts the economy to take tax dollars from some people and give it to others is a gross misunderstanding of economics,” Justin Owen, the group’s president and CEO, said in an email. “In reality, Medicaid expansion will cost taxpayers billions of dollars.”

“No matter what a special interest-funded study tries to claim, Medicaid expansion is a multibillion-dollar Band-Aid on a massive wound,” Owen said. “It just won’t work.”

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