TennCare aims at cost savings, but not Medicaid expansion


The state agency that so many Tennesseans depend on for healthcare came before the governor’s budget hearings this week with word of cost-savings but no mention of Medicaid expansion. 

TennCare takes up more than a quarter of the state budget and covers more than 1.3 million people, about half of them children. 

TennCare director Gabe Robert told Governor Lee that the department’s budget for fiscal year 2019-20 would be $12.1 billion. 

That’s out of a projected nearly $38 billion for the entire state budget that Lee is scheduled to unveil on Mar. 4 during the governor’s annual State of the State address to Tennessee lawmakers. 

About two-thirds of TennCare’s budget is paid for by federal funds, with states picking up the rest. Navigating the costs of the health care for low-income Tennesseans is key to any governor’s budget. 

What you save in TennCare can allow more spending in areas like K-12 education or safety. 

At budget hearings Tuesday before Governor Lee, TennCare’s director touted the program’s yearly rate of cost increase (2.1%) compared to national figures. 

“We used to say we would be looking at less than half of the national growth, we are not quite at less than half, but we are still pretty low,” said Roberts. 

Lee and most fellow Republicans who dominate Tennessee’s legislature have not supported expanding access to TennCare with available federal money. 

The new governor has maintained that access will come with lowering health care costs. In each of the budget hearings for all the state’s department, Lee has offered his guiding principles.  

“When I see proposals that are actually going to cut services, those are not the kind of things we are looking at first. want to look at inefficiencies,” said the governor after the TennCare budget hearing. 

After the budget is released, Senate and House members will be holding similar hearings on how state government spends its money.

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