Advocates hold mock funeral to characterize possible lives lost if no Tenn. Medicaid expansion

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Members of the state chapter of the NAACP and other health care advocates held a mock funeral across from the state Capitol on Tuesday to characterize lives they say will be lost if Medicaid is not expanded in Tennessee.

About 100 people attended the event, which included a processional with a casket.

Organizers say many people have died because they don't have health care and that there will be more deaths if Medicaid is not expanded.

"The suffering is profound," said Margaret Ecker, an outreach coordinator with the Tennessee Justice Center, a leading advocate for enrollees in TennCare, Tennessee's version of Medicaid. "These are human beings who will all care for. It's about doing the right thing."

Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, has been criticized by Democrats for refusing last year to agree to $1.4 billion in federal funds to cover about 180,000 uninsured Tennesseans under the terms the money was offered.

The governor has sought to negotiate a special deal that would allow the state to use the federal money to subsidize private insurance and promote healthier lifestyles through incentives and to create a health provider payment system that stresses rewards for keeping patients healthy through preventative care and management of chronic illnesses.

Haslam told reporters as recently as last month that he's still in talks with Washington over finding a way to expand Medicaid.

Haslam said he wants to find a solution that is acceptable both to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and to largely skeptical lawmakers in Tennessee, who must approve any deal under a law passed earlier this year.

Haslam spokesman David Smith told The Associated Press in an email on Tuesday that "the governor believes that more people having access to health care is a good thing and has been working to do that in a way that controls costs and provides for better health outcomes."

He reiterated that the administration is continuing to have discussions with federal health officials.

Tennessee NAACP President Gloria Sweet-Love, who has been trying to meet with the governor, said she hopes something is worked out soon and that it will benefit those who need health care.

"There's no reason in a state as progressive as Tennessee that we should still be ... talking about Medicaid expansion," she said. "There's no reason to continue to deny the economic stability that it will provide."

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