Upon hearing hearing that two out of three Tennesseans favor the governor’s Insure Tennessee plan in a recent survey, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey turned to his spokesman and asked a question.
“Did you pull that out of the trash can yet?” he said, followed by a laugh.
Ramsey, arguably the most powerful Republican in state government, said he gives little credence to poll results released Wednesday by Vanderbilt University showing that people favor the governor’s embattled plan nearly by nearly a 2-to-1 margin, want an expansion of health care coverage and want the full legislature to vote on it. Vanderbilt is "notoriously wrong in their polling," Ramsey told reporters.
“All I know is I want to try to create the best policy for the state of Tennessee and I’m not going to do it literally based on polling. And I do think there’s all kinds of problems with the basic structure of Obamacare,” said Ramsey, who once straddled the line for support of the governor’s plan before the measure barreled toward two rejections in Senate committees this year.
“I think what we need is to wait until 2016, and I mean this, and we’ll have a Republican-elected president, I hope, and give us a block grant and let us design this to where we aren’t just addressing the 100 percent poverty, the 133 [percent],” he said after a meeting of the State Building Commission Wednesday. “We’re addressing everybody. Everybody should have to pay co-payments, everybody should have to pay deductibles, not just that little group right there and I don’t want to have my hands tied when that time comes. I just think that’s bad policy.”
Insure Tennessee is the governor’s state-specific proposal to expand Medicaid in order to close a coverage gap of people who make less 138 percent of the federal poverty level but don’t currently qualify for TennCare.
In addition to the 64 percent of people surveyed who said they support Insure Tennessee, 78 percent of respondents said the full legislature should vote on the measure. It failed twice this year in legislative committees.
“That wouldn’t have mattered… There was no way it had 17 votes, period,” said Ramsey about the votes needed in the Senate, adding that anyone who was eager to vote on the proposal did in committee.
House Speaker Beth Harwell, who also sits on the State Building Commission, took a phone call after the meeting and did not take questions from media. She was unavailable later in the afternoon, according to her staff.
A partisan divide:
The Tennessee House Democratic Caucus supports today’s release of health insurance premium records to the Nashville Tennessean newspaper and request all insurance premium information be opened up to the media and the public. Several media outlets had requested the information after the defeat of Insure Tennessee. Insure Tennessee would have provided quality, affordable healthcare to 280,000 poor and working poor Tennesseans at no additional costs to taxpayers.
Several Republican lawmakers publicly condemned the premium information release, claiming it violated their privacy. However, today the state turned over all of the information on premiums paid for lawmakers to the media. Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Stewart said “It is the ultimate in hypocrisy.”
Stewart added, “To refuse to provide for the working poor of Tennessee, while trying to keep the insurance benefits they receive a secret illustrates their contempt for Tennesseans.” Insure Tennessee was proposed by Governor Haslam in a special legislative session in February. However, it was killed in committee by Republican lawmakers without ever going to the floor of either chamber for full discussion.
More information is coming about the insurance plans carried by state legislators. Rep. Glen Casada is displeased:
“As stated by the Office of Legislative Administration below, I wholeheartedly believe the release of this information is a blatant violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) standards. In addition, the release of these records is a complete policy shift of both the prior Governor and current Governor’s Administration up until February of this year. Whoever authorized the release of this information showed a clear lack of judgment and, at the very least, should be reprimanded immediately. If this is the executive branch’s way of negotiating with the legislative branch about Insure Tennessee, I would encourage them to strongly and swiftly rethink their strategy.”
The letter in question after the jump:
I write to inform you that the Office of Benefits Administration, a division of the Department of Finance and Administration, is releasing further detailed information to the media regarding member health insurance benefits.
This is once again a dramatic and unprecedented departure from policy. As you may remember, I wrote to you in February to inform you that Benefits Administration was departing from their policy to release only the number of legislators and staff on the state health plan. Today, Benefits Administration is going further. They are releasing, both to the Tennessean and the Associated Press, not only the names of legislators on the plan but what type of plan they have, as well as the full cost.
The Office of Legislative Administration views this as a blatant violation of member privacy. It is the long standing policy of the Office of Legislative Administration to release only the number of legislators and staff on the state insurance plan. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) precludes releasing names or "any other personally identifying information" as such information is protected health information. It is the opinion of this office that release of personally identifiable enrollment information would be in violation of federal HIPPA privacy protections.
I would like to emphasize that decision was made in the executive branch at the direction of Benefits Administration Executive Director Laurie Lee. The Office of Legislative Administration did not approve of this release nor did we authorize it. Our policy of releasing only the number of legislators and staff goes back decades. This policy was also the policy of Benefits Administration until the concluding moments of this February's special session on Insure Tennessee. The policy change was made in consultation with Finance & Administration General Counsel Martha Nichols. The General Assembly's Office of Legal Services was not consulted.
You will likely see media coverage regarding the release of this information over the coming days. I wanted you to be fully aware of what information was being released and from where the information was coming. Following my signature you will find a detailed list of what information will be provided to the media by Benefits Administration.
If you have any questions regarding this subject or any other please do not hesitate to call my office.
In its second year of offering health insurance products on the federal marketplace, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee lost about 15 percent of its market share, although it still commands more than two-thirds of the market.
The company announced this week 54,460 Tennesseans signed up during the second enrollment period, down from the 133,000 who signed up and paid by May of last year. A good number of those are likely to have migrated to Community Health Alliance, a co-op that has been building its provider network. The insurer's total membership count is now 164,896 Tennesseans, representing 70 percent of the state market, down from about 86 percent in 2014. About 11.4 million people signed up on the federal marketplace nationally, of which 229,000 were Tennesseans.
"It's important for us to have again earned the trust of the majority of those in the market, including those customers who chose us in the first pen enrollment," Henry Smith, BlueCross senior vice president of operations and chief marketing officer, said in a release. "We're pleased that our customers saw the value in our products and service."
Of the 2015 enrollees, approximately 80 percent receive premium subsidies, and 51 percent are 45 or older. The largest percentage of members — 29 percent — live in the Nashville area.
POSTDATA: WARRANTY DEEDS