By Julia Edwards
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Reuters) - Fresh from another Supreme Court validation of his landmark healthcare law, President Barack Obama visited healthcare hub Nashville, Tennessee on Wednesday to push state governments to expand the Medicaid health program for the poor.
Obamacare, as the president's law is known, envisions a major expansion of the program, but nearly half of all U.S. states, mostly Republican-controlled, have rejected that part of the law and opted out of a Medicaid expansion.
The Tennessee legislature voted against an expansion in February and a total of 22 states have made such a stand.
Without expansion, 6.9 million low-income Americans will not get Medicaid assistance, said the Kaiser Family Foundation.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters traveling to Nashville on Air Force One that Obama’s visit was meant to send a message to Tennessee and the other opt-out states.
“The hope is that we will put pressure on those individuals, and it’s been almost all Republicans, who have put political interests ahead of the health of their citizens,” Earnest said.
Nashville rode the 1990s healthcare boom to become a major industry center, with 50-percent growth in clinical provider jobs between 1995 and 2008, according to the Nashville Health Care Council. The sector accounts for 250 businesses in Nashville and more than $70 billion in revenue.
Shares in Nashville-based HCA, which accounts for 4 percent to 5 percent of all in-patient care in the United States, rose 10.6 percent on the Supreme Court decision on Thursday that upheld Obamacare's insurance premium tax subsidy system.
HCA spokesman Ed Fishbough said the company was pleased with the ruling and has backed efforts to expand Medicaid in Tennessee.
Sheryl Skolnick, a hospital industry analyst for Mizuho Securities, said hospitals welcome expanded Medicaid because it covers the uninsured poor who often go to the hospital for routine health ailments, increasing costs for everyone.
For the hospitals, "it is a burden. The hospital becomes the insurer of last resort,” said Skolnick.
But the conservative Beacon Center of Tennessee, one of the loudest voices of opposition when the state considered expansion, said Obama is selling a program that is “unaffordable and immoral.”
“While we thank the president for visiting our beautiful capital city, giving a speech on bad policy and shaking a few hands is not going to solve our healthcare problems here in Tennessee,” said spokesman Mark Cunningham.
(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Tom Brown)