CHS chief pounds table on Medicaid expansion

Health Care Council panelists expect change, with rural stakeholders leading the way

One of the most prominent voices from Middle Tennessee's health care community on Wednesday called for state lawmakers to get to work on the expansion of the Medicaid insurance program as 25 other states and the District of Columbia have done or are doing.

Community Health Systems Chairman, President and CEO Wayne Smith pounded the table at a Nashville Health Care Council event at which he moderated a discussion with four Wall Street analysts about the state of the industry. Speaking to the issue, Credit Suisse's Ralph Giacobbe said the topic of Medicaid expansion is "all about politics" and that legislators have little to no practical reason to turn down what is essentially free money from the federal government, at least for a number of years.

Gov. Bill Haslam has over the past year repeatedly said he is looking to build a Tennessee-specific plan to expand insurance to low-income people but has struggled to come up with a plan that would work here and be accepted in D.C.

"Good job! Would you like to speak to our state legislature?" Smith, right, said in response to Giacobbe, who was followed by Bank of America Merrill Lynch's Kevin Fischbeck pointing to how the original narrow rollout of Medicaid five decades ago quickly became a national push.

Locally based analysts Whit Mayo of Robert W. Baird and Frank Morgan of RBC Capital Markets also chimed in on the topic. Morgan said he finds it "kind of amazing" that Tennessee legislators haven't yet figured out how to make expansion work. Mayo, in turn, pointed out that half of Tennessee's uninsured have income at 139 percent or less of the federal poverty line and that rural legislators will likely lead the way for change when federal payments to smaller hospitals begin to be cut.

"The economic benefit of [expanding] is too large to ignore," said Mayo, pictured above. "The political uproar will be too much to bear."

SEE ALSO: With no Medicaid expansion, Senate doctors look at stopgap