Bredesen: Health care reform would cost state $1.4 billion

Posted on November 7, 2009

Health care reform legislation that was scheduled for a House vote on Saturday would cost Tennessee an estimated $1.4 billion in expanded Medicaid expenses, Gov. Phil Bredesen said. Bredesen, who attended Friday’s dedication of the George P. Jaynes Justice Center, said that price tag is about double what the Senate Finance Committee’s version of health care reform would cost the state. “Our best guess is in that 2014 to 2019 period that (the legislation) comes into effect, it’s got a cost of about $1.4 billion to the state,” Bredesen, a Democrat and former health maintenance organization operator, said of the Democrat-sponsored $1.2 trillion health care reform measure in the House. “Our problem is in great years, that’s hard to accommodate. ... The public option (in the health care reform bill) does not have a direct impact on the costs to the state of Tennessee. Medicaid is where those costs really are. ” Bredesen was asked if he ever considered how he might have impacted the health care reform debate if he would have been named U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary. Former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius got the HHS job over Bredesen. “I feel like I have dodged a bullet,” Bredesen said with a smile. Bredesen said he has communicated the state’s position on health care reform primarily with U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, a Democrat, because he is the dean of the Tennessee congressional delegation. But Bredesen said he feels fortunate to also be dealing with GOP U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker on the reform legislation. Alexander is a former governor, and Corker is the state’s former chief financial officer. “They both just have an inherent understanding of what is going on in state government that an awful lot of senators don’t,” Bredesen said of Alexander and Corker. Bredesen told reporters that despite the infusion of money into state government from the federal stimulus package, the next decade will be tough on Tennessee. “It’s going to be 2014 before we think we’ll be back to the revenues we had in 2008,” he predicted. “Then of course you’ve got lots of unmet needs. You won’t have given raises to state employees for five years at that point. Our pension plans are in need of some replenishment. Our reserves are in need of some replenishment. We won’t have done a bunch of new things. It’s a problem, there’s no question about it.” Bredesen noted he and department heads are expected to go through the numbers during upcoming budget hearings. “This next six months is going to be the toughest six months of my time as governor,” said Bredesen, who is in his second and last term as governor. “It is a tough time to close. It becomes politically difficult because the economy is starting to come back a little bit, and yet because of all the stimulus money, we’ve been protected by some of these cuts but they will come home. For both me and the legislature, you’re in this position of when the public thinks things are getting better, our budget is getting worse. But we will get through this as we did in the past.” When asked for his take on GOP Election Day wins in New Jersey and Virginia, Bredesen indicated he learned more from what happened in Virginia. “I just think the message (in Virginia) is ‘This is a centrist country,’ ” Bredesen said. “Independents really do hold sway in elections. The way I’ve been able to be elected in Tennessee is to really focus on staying in the center and getting the independents to be with you. I lose some of the right-wing Republicans and some of the left-wing Democrats. ... I’m afraid as a party we’re not responding to that (independent) group. We’re depending too much on the narrow base.”