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VOL. 39 | NO. 26 | Friday, June 26, 2015

Obama urges bipartisanship in Medicaid expansion effort

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NASHVILLE (AP) — President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he'd like to see "some good sense spring forth" as Tennessee lawmakers try to work out their differences and expand Medicaid in a state he touted as having a history of bipartisanship.

Obama visited an elementary school in a northeast Nashville neighborhood and spoke about his health care overhaul, known officially as the Affordable Care Act, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last week.

The White House had said Obama wasn't going to focus on Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's failed plan to expand Medicaid in Tennessee.

But when the president started taking questions from the people gathered in the school's cafeteria, he was asked about Insure Tennessee and what can be done to get it passed after lawmakers voted it down twice.

Obama acknowledged that it is a state issue, but said Tennessee has a history of bipartisanship and a "strong history of innovation in health care."

"Given the high quality of doctors and hospitals and nurses and networks that are here, y'all should be able to find a solution," Obama said. "I'd like to see some good sense spring forth from the great state of Tennessee, and see if we can get this thing done."

Haslam's plan sought to extend coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans. The proposal failed in a special legislative session in February and was then revived during the regular session — only to be killed again in a Senate committee.

Haslam was invited to Obama's event, but did not attend. He has said another special session is unlikely.

Sen. Jeff Yarbro, who led the second effort to revive the plan, attended Wednesday's event and said the president's message was pleasing.

"I think the president was right on today," said the Nashville Democrat. "What he told us here in Tennessee is to work together in a common-sense way to solve the problem. It doesn't have to be the way he would solve it; it doesn't have to be the way some other state would do it. But we have people that are uninsured in Tennessee and we need to find a common sense way to get them covered."

Kelly Bryant, of Nashville, is among thousands of Tennesseans who currently benefit from the Affordable Care Act.

After arriving in Tennessee, Obama saved a seat in his limousine for Bryant, who wrote about finding affordable insurance under the law to treat her breast cancer. He picked her up on the way to the event, even holding an umbrella to shield her from a pounding rain.

"I never imagined in my wildest dreams that anyone would read it, let alone him," Bryant said to introduce the president. "I am living proof of a president who listens and cares about the American people."

Leading up to the president's visit, some questioned the effect Obama's visit would have on the expansion effort in Tennessee, where he's not too popular.

"You've got a president who is not popular in the state, but at the same time he has a series of recent victories, so to speak, handed to him by the Supreme Court," Vanderbilt University political science professor John Geer said. "He wants to try to make this work now that ACA is going to be here."

State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said he believed the president's visit would "reinforce the negative perceptions of those who are opposed" to the plan.

"It's sort of piling on by an administration that has been intransigent in its approach to actually providing health care," the Collierville Republican said. "The insurance debate isn't going anywhere, and his presence is not going to help."

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