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VOL. 38 | NO. 10 | Friday, March 07, 2014

Senate passes Medicaid legislative approval bill

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NASHVILLE (AP) — The Senate on Thursday voted to require Gov. Bill Haslam to secure legislative approval for any potential deal to expand Medicaid in Tennessee despite the Republican governor's repeated assurances that he would first seek their OK for any arrangement.

The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown was approved 23-6. The House passed its version 69-24 last month, but would have to agree to changes made to the Senate bill before sending it for Haslam's signature.

The governor told reporters after an economic development announcement in Dickson later Thursday that he's unconcerned about the legislation.

"We said all along before we did anything we would seek the Legislature's approval," Haslam said. "And so we didn't feel like the legislation really changed anything, and we're still continuing to pursue an answer."

Some Republican leaders acknowledged the bill might not have been necessary, but that it serves to get a point across.

"I think it sends a message to our constituents that we're watching their money," said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey acknowledged later to reporters that the bill is a bit redundant, but the Blountville Republican said "there are some that felt more strongly that anything could happen; let's put this in law."

Senate Democrats argue that the bill reflects distrust of the governor by fellow Republicans in the Legislature, and filed a slate of unsuccessful amendments to the bill, including an effort to create a limited expansion of Medicaid services to cover veterans and individuals with intellectual disabilities.

"For those people, the least of these, we're going to ask to expand Medicaid," said Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis. "On the way home today, every legislator will see someone who would be impacted by our amendments."

Kyle was successful in amending the bill to say that if the governor reaches an agreement and a special session is called to approve the expansion, then lawmakers would return at their own expense.

"It will save us money," he said.

The governor last year declined to accept the Medicaid money without special arrangements for the state. So far, negotiations have been fruitless. Haslam wants to use the federal money to subsidize private insurance and promote healthier lifestyles through a series of incentives.

Haslam said last month that he has asked U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to make a counterproposal to Tennessee's efforts to carve out a special deal for Medicaid expansion.

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