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Thanks, Obama!

Tennessee tackles health-care reform for the working poor. Finally.

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Last week, I joined the nine-million-plus Americans who have Obamacare.

My premiums are less than I paid with employer-sponsored health insurance, my deductible went from $2,800 to zero, and I can stick with the same primary care doctor.

Thanks, President Obama!

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The opportunity to have affordable health insurance separate from a job allows me and many others to pursue more meaningful work. For the first time in my life, I can explore being not just an employee but an entrepreneur. (Or as Mitt Romney would say, a maker, not a taker.)

Nearly five years after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law and after months of dithering over whether to get on board, Governor Bill Haslam has come up with Insure Tennessee, his too-little-too-late version of Obamacare.

Of course, Haslam would never call it that. But without Obamacare, it's unlikely that the nation's richest politician (net worth: $2 billion) would have devised a health insurance plan for the working poor.

Thanks again, Obama!

On Monday, Haslam convened a special session of the state legislature to consider Insure Tennessee. The two-year pilot of Insure Tennessee wouldn't start until 2016. That means the state would forfeit even more than the $2.4 billion it's passed up so far by refusing to accept federal dollars for Medicaid expansion, which was a key part of the Affordable Care Act.

Insure Tennessee is aimed at those who earn less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $16,242 for an individual. Haslam's administration estimates that 200,000 Tennesseans would be eligible for Insure Tennessee.

Even if I stood to benefit, I wouldn't be impressed.

Said Haslam when he announced his plan: "This plan leverages federal dollars to provide health-care coverage to more Tennesseans, to give people a choice in their coverage, and to address the cost of health care, better health outcomes, and personal responsibility."

See that last part about personal responsibility? If you thought Haslam was motivated by any Christian obligation to be his brother's (or sister's) keeper, those two words should disabuse you of that notion. This right-wing blather about personal responsibility is a smokescreen, part of a nasty narrative that falsely insists those who accept government assistance or subsidies in any way are reckless ne'er do wells.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation estimates that expanding Medicaid would cost Tennessee $1.7 billion over 10 years, most of which would come after 2017, when the federal government's contribution drops to 95 percent, then 94 percent in 2018, 93 percent in 2019, and 90 percent from 2020 on.

Under Insure Tennessee, state hospitals would cover that 10 percent gap. Not out of the goodness of their hearts, but because patients with insurance mean more money for hospitals.

But here's something you should know. According to a New York Times analysis, Tennessee spends at least $1.58 billion each year on incentives for businesses. That's right, Tennessee would spend far, far less on health care for the working poor than it does on tax incentives, sales tax refunds, and corporate income tax reductions to lure companies to the state. If corporations are indeed people, then Haslam is the most compassionate man on the planet.

But if people are people — including the 918 lives that would have been saved in 2014 with Medicaid expansion — then the refusal to embrace Obamacare is cruel, mean-spirited, and immoral.

It is unconscionable that, just now, Haslam's administration will give to Tennesseans the care and attention it's been giving to businesses for years.

But with a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled state house and senate, Insure Tennessee is the best we will get — and it's far from certain that the legislature's Tea Party contingent, which is virulently anti-Obama anything, will support it.

Open enrollment for Obamacare continues through February 15th. If you don't enroll by February 15th, you probably won't be able to get insurance through the federal exchange this year, unless you get married, have a child, lose a job, or experience some other qualifying life event.

Go to getcoveredtenn.org to schedule an appointment with an enrollment counselor who can walk you through the process.

And once you're enrolled, you know who to thank.

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