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Health care compact fails in Tenn. House committee

Lucas l. Johnson Ii, Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- A measure that would allow Tennessee to approach Congress about forming the state's own health care system has failed a second consecutive year after opponents said Tuesday it's unnecessary and could hurt the state's other health initiatives.

The proposal sponsored by Republican Rep. Mark Pody of Lebanon failed 9-9 in the House Insurance and Banking Committee.

A similar measure failed on the House floor last year after about 28 members were either absent or abstained on the vote.

In defending his bill on Tuesday, Pody said it's wise to have other options for health care. Like the one last year, it would have allowed Tennessee to join an interstate health care compact in seeking other options.

"I believe we're putting another bullet in our gun for legislators down the road," he said before the vote. "I want to have Tennessee in a position where we have as many options as possible, because we don't know how things are going to be."

Opponents said the measure is unnecessary and that it might affect Tennessee's federal match for TennCare, the state's expanded Medicaid program, and other health care initiatives.

"I've been involved in health care for more than 40 years, and we are treading on dangerous territory," said Rep. Joanne Favors, a Chattanooga Democrat and nurse.

"There are too many unanswered questions with this health care compact."

Pody said the measure wouldn't affect federal funding the state is receiving, but lawmakers still expressed apprehension — even some GOP members of the Republican-majority committee.

"Why can't we just send a letter to Congress asking can't we do this?" asked Charles Sargent, R-Franklin. "This doesn't make sense, when we can do this without putting it into law."

Before the vote, some members of the committee asked Pody what Gov. Bill Haslam's position was on the bill, and he said the governor's administration was neutral.

On Friday, Haslam announced that Tennessee won't participate in a partnership with the federal government in establishing a health insurance exchange.

The Republican governor said in a letter to U.S. Health and Human Resources Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that the partnership model doesn't address his concerns over what he called "aggressive federal timelines, a lack of true flexibility for states, and misguided federal policies."

Exchanges are online markets required under President Barack Obama's health care law where consumers will be able to buy individual private policies and apply for government subsidies to help pay their premiums.