Two busloads and a few cars of mostly black clergy from across the state offered songs and prayers on Tennessee's Capitol Hill Thursday in hopes Governor Bill Haslam will expand Medicaid as part of Obamacare.
"We pray for the encouragement of our governor to make the right decision that we can provide health care for all of the citizens of the state of Tennessee," said Dr. Marvin Mercer of Mount Olive Baptist Church.
After a jobs announcement in Alcoa, Tennessee, the governor quipped in response that, "I always appreciate people praying for me in this job, and will take all the prayer I can get."
Then he turned serious in answering the latest questions about using Medicaid expansion funds from Obamacare to help 175,000 Tennesseans purchase health insurance.
The governor said he was in Washington last week meeting with Health and Human Services Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius and Medicaid officials who would need to approve his alternative use of the Medicaid money.
"They understand what we are trying to do have a program that has better outcomes and controls the cost, so we'll see we can if we can actually work that out," he told reporters in Alcoa.
That idea has had a lukewarm response at best around the state and at the General Assembly where Republicans have more than a two-thirds majority in both chambers.
Cost down the road and the recent memory of 180,000 people kicked off the state's Medicaid program (Tenncare) are often cited as some of the reasons for the strong opposition.
Even with those odds, most of the 75-or-so assembled clergy said they were hopeful that Governor Haslam would do something with Medicaid money made available under Obamacare.
"You are talking to a pastor, we are people of hope," Rev. Roderick Ware told News 2. "And we never know when the tides will turn and God will intervene on our behalf."
Pastor Ware estimated that half the community he serves in Chattanooga either lacks or does not have enough proper health care coverage.
"I think the governor is responsible enough to at least listen and weigh the scales of balance and say we need to do the right thing for our people," added the pastor.
In talking with News 2 on last Thursday before his Washington trip to meet with Medicaid officials, the governor cautioned again about putting too many people on Tenncare.
"Remember, Governor Bredesen had to cut people off the program because it had gotten too big and costly," said Haslam said week. "And we don't want to go through that pain again."