Haslam sets Feb. 2 start date for special session on covering more than 200,000 Tennesseans

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday issued a call for a special legislative session to take up his proposal to offer medical coverage to more than 200,000 low-income Tennesseans.

The governor's proclamation calls for the special session to begin Feb. 2, and legislative leaders expect it to take about a week. The proposal dubbed "Insure Tennessee" is billed as a two-year pilot program using federal funds available under President Barack Obama's health care law.

But Haslam stresses that his proposal is different than a straight expansion of Medicaid, as it would include what he calls a market-based approach that includes incentives for healthier living. According to the summary of his proposal released Thursday, the aim is "to shift health care spending toward paying for value rather than paying for volume."

Still, the governor has acknowledged that the proposal will be a tough sell in the GOP-controlled Legislature, and that he will likely need the votes of all Democrats to give it a chance. Democrats hold 26 of 99 seats in the House and five of 33 seats in the Senate.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, told reporters Thursday morning that he was surprised the governor expected to rely on Democrats so heavily.

"I'm not depending on Democrats to pull the weight on this," Ramsey said. "If we want to pass it or not pass it, it should be up to the 28 Republicans to decide that."

House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said she was less concerned about working in concert with Democrats on the measure.

"I actually think it's good when we have bipartisan efforts, and I think the public agrees with that," she said. "I do agree with the governor that we're going to need every Democrat vote."

Ramsey said he had not yet seen enough of the full proposal to raise any specific concerns, but he said lingering mistrust of the Obama administration will be a major factor.

"The only thing that bothers any of us is that we're negotiating with the Obama administration," Ramsey said. "I want to see it in writing, where we are, what escape clauses do we have if promises aren't kept."

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