NASHVILLE -- State Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, filed legislation Thursday to prevent an expansion of TennCare under provisions of the federal health care reform act.
The Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare, calls on states to expand their Medicaid programs to include anyone within 138 percent of the poverty level as one of the ways to achieve the federal law's lofty goal of expanding affordable health care to all Americans.
Kelsey's legislation immediately earned the support of 12 of his Senate colleagues, all Republicans.
A summary of the bill was not immediately available, but Kelsey said the ultimate goal is to prevent Tennessee from having to foot the bill for Medicaid expansion.
"Tennessee taxpayers simply can’t afford $200 million a year to expand TennCare," Kelsey said in a statement.
$200 million is the state's estimated 10 percent share of TennCare expansion that would not be covered by the federal government, according to the Senate Republican caucus. Under Obamacare, the federal government will pay for 100 percent of state Medicaid expansions for the first three years, reducing that coverage to 90 percent for future years.
Kelsey pointed out the 1981 decision by the federal government to reduce its Medicaid payments to the state in order to help balance its budget.
State Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, who represents Scott County and the 12th senatorial district, was not among the bill's cosponsors. However, Yager experienced serious concerns about TennCare expansion earlier this month, saying the state likely would be unable to cover the cost increase.
"Before I agree to expand TennCare, I have to consider the cost and I just don’t know if we can afford it," Yager told the Independent Herald before the General Assembly convened in early January.
There are currently 49,000 residents of the 12th district, which includes Fentress, Morgan, Pickett, Campbell, Roane and Rhea counties in addition to Scott County. In Scott County, about 30 percent of residents are covered by TennCare. The statewide average is 19 percent.
While Kelsey's bill was filed in the legislature Thursday, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, told reporters that the bill will not be rushed to the Senate floor.
"I'm in no hurry," Ramsey said of action on the bill, adding that "there is no deadline."
A similar piece of legislation has been filed in the state House of Representatives by Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin. The bill currently has 22 cosponsors.
In his state of the state address Monday, Gov. Bill Haslam did not announce a decision on TennCare expansion, saying instead that the issue will be studied during the legislative session.