The Tri-Star State: Tennessee Democrats Hopeful Gov. Lee Will Support Some Medicaid Expansion

Feb 18, 2019

Democrats in the state legislature say one of their main aims this year is to move forward with the expansion of the program.
Credit Stephen Jerkins/WPLN

Contrary to Democrats, Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly have resisted for years the idea of expanding the state's Medicaid program, also known as TennCare.

They repeatedly blocked Gov. Bill Haslam's efforts to expand coverage.



But Democrats in the state legislature say one of their main aims this year is to move forward with expansion of the program. And they say there's a chance Gov. Bill Lee could be convinced. 

The following are excerpts from recent interviews:

Karen Camper, the House minority leader, on how Lee's political inexperience could benefit Democrats:

"He’s coming with a fresh view. He’s saying 'OK I’ve travelled this state, all 95 counties, I have seen the impact of hospital closures, up close and personal. I have people on the trail telling me I have a pre-existing condition, that now I would not be able to get affordable health care.' So he’s coming in with a fresh look and people’s mind would be open to the fact that OK, let’s give him a chance to look at this. Let's see what he might come up with. Let’s see if he has an alternative to how we can have better health care.”

Camper, on wanting to take advantage of a narrow window of timing — Lee's first year in office:

"He could, you know, come out, get the support he needs, show to our body (Medicaid expansion) is something that’s important to him, get us behind him and then move on. And do all the great things that he wants to do and not be under this pressure to feel like ‘Well, it’s an election year, it’s political.’ Now is the time. If you wait two or three years, it will get political."

Jeff Yarbro, the Senate minority leader, on his measure that would authorize the governor to expand Medicaid and negotiate with the federal government without any restrictions:

"The legislature — 132 people that work on a part-time basis— can’t conduct a negotiation with the federal government, which is why historically we give a set of directions to the governor to go negotiate on behalf of Tennessee. ... Obviously, the legislature can come fix things on the back end. But the way we have it right now is like an elaborate permission slip that the governor has got to get through the General Assembly on the back end of the negotiation, and it's impractical."