Haslam: 'Shame on us' if no real Medicaid reform

Governor also tells Chamber crowd tort reform is working

Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday morning said his proposed "third way" to expand Tennessee's health insurance rolls is a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to truly reform health care."

In his annual address to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, Haslam said his approach unveiled last week would seek to better align the incentives of the federal government, insurers and care providers. In taking this path, Haslam rejected dollars made available to states under the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid rolls. In Tennessee, that expansion would take place in the state’s TennCare program.

On Tuesday, Haslam — after being introduced by Community Health Systems Chairman, President and CEO Wayne Smith — said that, while many details still need to be worked out, his basic approach of leveraging federal dollars to bring more people onto private insurers' rolls could save between $3 and $9 for every $1 of cost.

"Shame on us if we don't take the chance to fix this," he said.

Among the other topics Haslam covered were:

• Tort reform – The legislative package passed last year is making a difference, Haslam said, adding that he has heard good things both from company executives that have recently located jobs in the state and from doctors who say their insurance rates have dropped.

• Education – Haslam related an anecdote that an Asian company executive being courted for a large investment in the state told him education is key in his decision-making process. "He said, 'The only reason I'll come here is if you promise our kids won't full behind," Haslam said in talking about the need to bump up the number of Tennesseans with at least a two-year degree.

But, he added, that increase — long-term projections suggest more than half of the population will need higher-education degrees, up from 32 percent now — will need to include adults upgrading their skills; merely graduating more high schoolers won't make up the numbers. Then, responding to a question about possible 2014 priorities, Haslam also said to look for initiatives that address both cost and quality.

• Mass transit – Asked about his plans for investments in public transportation, Haslam was there is no plan because there is no money — a dynamic that's not helped by a tax collection system based on fuel volume in an age where cars have become much more efficient.

"It would be a little disingenuous if I say there is a grand plan without a way to pay for it," Haslam said.