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State-run health exchange faces GOP roadblock

Associated Press Modified: November 11, 2012 at 5:31 pm •  Published: November 11, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says Tennessee could design its own health insurance exchange required under Democratic President Barack Obama's health care law, but resistance in the GOP-controlled General Assembly may cause the state to hand that power off to the federal government.

States have until Friday to inform the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services if they plan to set up their own health insurance markets, and Haslam's decision could come down to the wire.

The governor opposes the new health care law but said he can see reasons for not deferring the exchange to federal government.

"There are a lot of benefits to the state running it ourselves, because we're going to run anything better than the federal government," he said.

But Haslam also acknowledged that it would be tough to get the Republican-controlled Legislature to approve a state exchange.

"Politically, it will be difficult," he said. "As somebody who's always said that closer-to-home government is the better, that's why I probably lean toward doing it."

Because some states like Tennessee were lagging on this issue, the federal government gave them until December to submit the details on a state-run exchange.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said there isn't much interest among Republicans to take ownership of a key element of Obama's health care law. The GOP gained supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly last week.

"We'd be more likely to throw it back to the federal government to have them clean up their own mess," McCormick said.

"This thing is going to be a headache for a lot of people in my opinion, and my question is whether I as a state representative want to take a beating on that when I didn't agree with setting the whole program up in the first place."

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville said his preference would be for the state to run the exchange, but he fears one created by the Republican-dominated Legislature would seek to undermine the Obama plan.

"I think what they'll try to do is skin it down as much as they can," he said, adding that the state mismanaging such a program would be worse than the federal government running it.

Open enrollment for exchange plans is scheduled to start next October, and coverage will be effective Jan. 1, 2014.

Former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has spoken in favor of states creating their own exchanges, noting that was originally a Republican idea.

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