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Health systems hope governor's plan will work in wake of Medicaid expansion refusal

Madison Mathews • Mar 28, 2013 at 7:23 AM

Local health care systems are hopeful Gov. Bill Haslam’s health care plan will work for thousands of uninsured Tennesseans, as long the federal government signs off on the proposal.

“As an organization, certainly at Mountain States we are supportive of the governor’s efforts to approach providing coverage for those folks this way and certainly urge the federal government to do everything in their power to hopefully approve this,” Mountain States Health Alliance Chief Financial Officer Marvin Eichorn said Wednesday.

Haslam announced Wednesday that he would not expand the state’s Medicaid program since he could not get his plan that would use federal money to subsidize private insurance for uninsured Tennesseans approved by the federal government.

The governor has said he will continue to negotiate with the federal government in order to gain approval.

Since the federal exchange under the Affordable Care Act goes into effect the first of next year, Eichorn said it’s important lawmakers work quickly to ensure the nearly 200,000 uninsured people in the state receive coverage.

“We certainly hope we can get some answers and get approval of this in a very short time frame,” he said.

Until something gets worked out, Eichorn said there’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding how it will affect Mountain States and other systems across Tennessee.

“It does give us some degree of concern. It’s sort of another element of uncertainty and timing and everything else. It’s certainly very concerning to us, but at the same time, we’re very hopeful that this can pass. It certainly seems like they’re doing everything in their power, from a state government standpoint, to get (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) or the federal government to make a decision as quick as possible, which obviously would be good for everybody,” he said.

Without expansion, hospital officials have said the state stands to lose 90,000 jobs statewide and about 9,000 jobs in the region. It would also impact facilities, particularly those hospitals in rural areas.

Until an agreement is made, Eichorn said there aren’t specifics to how it would affect Mountain States, but the system is in the midst of bracing for the worst.

“We’re going to have to do various things assuming this does not go forward. Again, that’s why we’re urging and really want this want this to go forward, so we’re certainly urging the federal government to act very positively about this so we can get this resolved and move ahead to try to get it implemented so we can avoid some of things that aren’t good for anybody,” he said.

If the plan doesn’t get approved, Eichorn said it would be very difficult for independent hospitals to survive.

“As Mountain States, thankfully we’re big enough we can withstand even this, but we’re going to have to do some things to adjust our expenses if it doesn’t go forward,” he said.

Wellmont Health System officials also voiced their support of Haslam’s decision, adding they hope the plan is approved at the federal level.

“Gov. Haslam’s alternative approach to the federal government’s plan is potentially promising if it can be achieved. Wellmont will need to see additional details about the governor’s proposal, but it remains essential that health insurance coverage be expanded in Tennessee,” a Wellmont statement read. “We appreciate the governor’s comments about the efforts of our health system and others across the state to work with him on a more effective healthcare delivery model. We look forward to working further with Gov. Haslam and his administration as this process moves foward.”

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