- Associated Press - Monday, March 30, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday urged fellow Republicans to look beyond political considerations as they prepare to vote on a revived version of his Insure Tennessee proposal.

Haslam told reporters that he spent the weekend talking to fellow Republicans on the state Senate Commerce Committee who are scheduled to vote Tuesday on the proposal to extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans.

“We’ve known all along this would be tough,” Haslam said. “But I think what we’re saying is: ‘Give us a full hearing, and listen to the real arguments instead of some of the political arguments people are making.’”

Under the governor’s two-year pilot program, hospitals would cover the $74 million state share to draw down $2.8 billion in federal Medicaid money. A similar proposal was defeated in a special legislative session last month, but a renewed effort introduced by a freshman Democratic senator cleared the Senate Health Committee on a 6-2 vote last week.

Although GOP lawmakers in recent years have been happy to approve hospital fees to draw down billions of federal dollars to support their operations, many have balked at the most recent plan largely on the basis of its links to President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Each of the eight Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee voted in favor of the past two years’ hospital assessment fee bills that have raised $900 million in state money to draw down $1.67 billion in federal funds.

“It’s hard on this one to get past the politics,” Haslam said. “That being said, I think people do get it and understand how important it is.

“So our job is to show them that the politics are actually favorable for Republicans,” the governor said. “People are in favor of this plan.”

Later Monday, proponents of the governor’s plan held a news conference and rallied at the state Capitol to urge people to show their support Tuesday. At the rally outside the chambers of the House and Senate, supporters sang, carried palm branches and held signs stating: “Insure Tennessee is a Moral Issue.”

Michele Johnson, executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center, organized the news conference that included clergy, health care professionals and individuals who would benefit from the extended coverage.

Johnson said people from all over the state are expected to be at the Legislative Plaza across from the Capitol on Tuesday, and they’ve been asked to talk to lawmakers before the Senate Commerce Committee meeting to try to persuade them to vote for the proposal.

“We hope it makes a difference,” Johnson said.

Tracy Foster of Clinton attended the news conference and is among those who would benefit from the governor’s plan. The 40-year-old has cancer of the bladder and said she’s been unable to get the treatment she needs at the rural hospitals in her area.

“I need this, and I know a lot of people back home need this,” said Foster, referring to the extended coverage. “There are people begging for this.”


Associated Press writer Lucas L. Johnson II contributed to this report.

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