Ramsey: Keep options open on Tennessee health exchange

Friday, November 16, 2012, Vol. 36, No. 46

NASHVILLE (AP) — Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey expects fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to announce by Friday's deadline that Tennessee will move ahead with plans to create a state-run health insurance exchange.

But Ramsey stressed to reporters on Thursday that a final decision is still months away regarding whether the state or the federal government will ultimately run the health care marketplace required under Democratic President Barack Obama's federal health care law.

"All that really does is kick the can down the road — as the federal government has done with this — and leave our options open," Ramsey said.

"Common sense would tell you that any time the state could run something, it is better than the federal government running something," he said. "But common sense and Obamacare don't go in the same sentence."

Ramsey called it "arrogant" for the federal government to demand states make a decision when so many details about what the exchanges will entail are still lacking. He said keeping options open about a state-run state exchange would give the governor and lawmakers more time to make an informed decision.

Key issues include how much flexibility would be granted to the states if they run their own exchanges.

"Why would we want to have a state-run authority when we only really get to run 10 to maybe 20 percent of it?" he said. "The federal government's still running 80 percent of it, yet we get 100 percent of the blame."

Ramsey said he expected the issue of how — and at what level — to comply with the federal health care law would be a major focus of lawmakers when they return in January, especially since many of them ran for office vocally opposing the president and the health care law.

Haslam spokesman David Smith said the governor was still reviewing his options.

"The governor continues to gather information, and no decision has been made," he said.

Ramsey said he's not close to making his mind up on the exchanges.

"I'm not leaning one way or another. I really am not," he said. "I'm trying to figure out where we are. I think this is what's going to dominate session, I really do. "

He added that GOP lawmakers will have to try to get beyond their emotional reaction to the health care law that has now withstood legal and political challenges and be "pragmatic enough to realize we need to make the proper decision — even though I have no idea what that proper decision is right now."