How does Gov. Haslam's proposed 'Insure Tennessee' plan affect y - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

How does Gov. Haslam's proposed 'Insure Tennessee' plan affect you?

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has made his pitch on expanding healthcare in the state. Now his plan is in the hands of the legislature. 

A special session is underway in Nashville this week as lawmakers toil over Insure Tennessee. The plan would expand health coverage to what the state calls 'working poor.'

Insure Tennessee is designed to provide health care coverage for about 280,000 Tennesseans using federal dollars. Channel 3 spoke with one Chattanooga doctor who says that population is only expanding. She says this plan would help decrease costs in the long run.

"In some people's minds, because it's tied to Obamacare, it becomes very politically contentious," says Gov. Bill Haslam.

Just last week Governor Haslam made a stop in Chattanooga for a legislative roundtable, pitching Insure Tennessee to lawmakers.

"We came back with a plan that I think is the right one for Tennessee or we wouldn't be recommending it," says Haslam.

Who qualifies for Insure Tennessee? An individual making below 138 percent of the poverty level, which means $16,000 a year for one person or $27,000 for a family of four.

"They are ineligible to pay for the premiums in the marketplace. The premiums are too high for them," says Dr. Vonda Ware.

Dr. Ware is an OB-GYN for the non-profit Cherokee Health Systems in Chattanooga. Cherokee treats this uninsured population which falls in what she calls a 'coverage gap.'

"That gap primarily consists of patients that are working," says Ware.

Ware says it is a group which usually does not go to the doctor for regular visits and usually has more serious health issues.

"Now you're looking at a medical bill that's astronomical versus before it could have just been a biopsy or just some medication."

Both she and Haslam say Insure Tennessee would drive costs down over time.

There are two options to the plan; the first is the Volunteer Plan. Under this plan the state would require an employer to pay at least half the insurance and a voucher helps the employee pay the rest.

The second option is called the Healthy Incentives Plan. People can earn money or credits for making healthy choices, which would help pay for services.

"There would also be premiums and co-pays involved, which we think incentivizes people to make healthy choices," says Gov. Haslam.

The state gives the example of not using the emergency room for non-emergency care and getting annual screenings.

Bottom line, Dr. Ware does not see expanding healthcare to Tennesseans as a political issue, but as providing necessary care.

"If we don't take care of it, what are the potential medical ramifications behind that?"

Lawmakers are slated to hold discussions on Insure Tennessee the rest of the week. Tuesday, Republican House leader Gerald McCormick said Gov. Haslam's proposal would pass comfortably in a full floor vote, but faces "challenges" in committees.

As far as who pays for the plan, for the first two years, the federal government will pay 100 percent for Insure Tennessee. By 2020, the federal funding drops to 90 percent, but hospitals have pledged to pay after that. Haslam says this leaves the taxpayer paying nothing. The governor also says the program will terminate if either of those conditions change. 

The federal funding for the governor's health proposal is available because of the Affordable Care Act. But according to Haslam, unlike "traditional medicaid expansion" through the Affordable Care Act, both Insure Tennessee healthcare options require co-pays, premiums, healthy choices and other similar components. Haslam is also adamant the plan will not cost the state any money.  

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