NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday he has asked U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to make a counterproposal to Tennessee's efforts to carve out a special deal for Medicaid expansion.
Haslam told reporters he had met with Sebelius twice during a Washington visit, and that she was aware of the state's requests to use the federal money to subsidize private insurance and promote healthier lifestyles through a series of incentives.
The governor last year declined to accept the Medicaid money without special arrangements for the state. Negotiations have so far been fruitless.
"We've had a lot of conversations about what won't work," Haslam said. "And I said, 'You know what we need to make a plan work. Why don't you come back to us with a proposal that you think will work?'
"So that's where we left it," he said.
The Haslam administration has said expanding Medicaid under the federal health care law would cover about 180,000 uninsured Tennesseans.
Democrats have criticized the governor for not releasing specifics of his Medicaid proposal.
The governor said he has not given up on a special deal for his "Tennessee Plan" for Medicaid expansion.
"I think it can happen," he said. "Usually if something should happen, and both parties are really trying to work toward that, then I think it's possible."
Haslam has pledged that he would seek legislative approval for any potential deal to expand Medicaid in Tennessee. The state House nevertheless voted 69-24 on Monday evening in favor of a bill to write a requirement for legislative approval into law.
"The last thing we want to do is automatically approve something the federal government does," said Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, the bill's main House sponsor.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh criticized the measure as counterproductive.
"This General Assembly has tied the hands of its governor," said Fitzhugh, D-Ripley. "It sends a message that we don't trust this governor, and don't trust him to negotiate in good faith a deal ... that is in the best interest of Tennessee."