TennCare funding debate launched at state capitol

Local News

Getting health care for those who can’t afford it dominated the talk on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill Thursday as state lawmakers ended their week before returning Monday.   

Much of the talk has been spurred by two Republican lawmakers who are sponsoring a bill calling for a major change to the state’s Medicaid program TennCare, which serves more than 1.3 million Tennesseans. 

Children are more than half of that number. 

Republican Rep. Timothy Hill and Sen. Paul Bailey want TennCare officials to submit a request to the federal government to receive Tennessee’s Medicaid money in the form of a block grant. 

House Bill 1280 was filed Wednesday in the House of Representatives and Senate Bill 1428 Thursday.  

TennCare provides health insurance for low income Tennesseans, but hundreds of thousands of others who are called the working poor don’t qualify program. Polls have often indicated healthcare access and costs as one of the major issues that Tennesseans want state lawmakers to address. 

Expanding the state’s Medicaid program has been rejected by the Republican supermajority on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill. 

“It’s shameful that we have not expanded healthcare,” says House Democrat Caucus Chair Mike Stewart. “It’s ridiculous. It makes Tennessee the oddball among states.” 

Tennessee Democrat leaders will quickly tell you neighboring southern states like Arkansas, Kentucky and Virginia have helped their working poor obtain healthcare by expanding Medicaid with money through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or using those federal funds differently to help people buy medical insurance  

State Senate Republican leaders believe they can make TennCare more efficient if they have greater control of the federal money that pays about two-thirds of the program’s $12-billion-dollar cost. 

“If the state was provided more flexibility with those dollars, we could provide more care to more people,” says Senate Republican Leader Jack Johnson. 

Many in the state’s Republican supermajority, including Lt. Governor Randy McNally, support the federal block grant idea for TennCare. 

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