» Subscribe Today!
More of what you want to know.
The Daily News
X

Forgot your password?
TDN Services
Research millions of people and properties [+]
Monitor any person, property or company [+]

Skip Navigation LinksHome >
VOL. 131 | NO. 132 | Monday, July 4, 2016

Methodist Exec: 'Can’t Afford to Not Discuss Expanding Medicaid'

By Andy Meek

Print | Front Page | Email this story | Email reporter | Comments ()

A task force of state lawmakers appointed by Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell has rolled out its plan for an expansion of Medicaid in Tennessee that’s more limited than the one envisioned by Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan.

BETH HARWELL

The latter met with a bruising defeat in a 2015 special legislative session. The alternative being pitched by Harwell’s task force takes a narrower tack, according to details that emerged in recent days, with a priority on extending coverage first to people with behavioral health problems and to veterans.

Cato Johnson, senior vice president of public policy and regulatory affairs at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, said representatives of the task force met about a week ago with officials from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Critics, nevertheless, have called the plan short on substance, some blasting it to reporters in Nashville as a “joke.”

State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville was more measured in his response to details of the proposal, which comes in the wake of a two-month statewide listening session between the task force and stakeholders.

“I can’t fault the members for continuing to explore alternatives,” Norris said. “I don’t find fault with that at all. We’re all looking for appropriate ways to provide access to health care. I’m trying to be open minded, but at the same time, the fact that I have no information about what’s underway is indicative of the lack of structure behind this. Unless you have some structure, some leadership behind it, it’s hard for somebody like me to say it’s got legs.”

Johnson, who said he’s been in close contact with Harwell and spoken with her regularly about closing the insurance gap in the state, acknowledged the tough political climate for something like what the task force wants to achieve. And the defeat of Insure Tennessee, which would have extended coverage to 280,000 people, still stings to people like him who think the state should be doing more.

In Shelby County, he said, there are anywhere from 75,000 to 80,000 people with no coverage – who don’t qualify for TennCare or any other program.

“I think there’s a feeling among many legislators, no matter how you couch this particular issue, the numbers suggest in this state there’s still a tremendous problem with the coverage gap,” Johnson said. “In the listening sessions, another thing that kept coming up was the number of individuals with behavioral health problems.”

Norris has said the state’s management of the existing TennCare program – the state’s version of Medicaid – should be revisited before any expansion is considered. That, along with the timing and the charged political atmosphere, helped kill Insure Tennessee last year.

Republican leaders in the two legislative chambers also clashed over the timing of who was to vote first on the proposal in the special session. The result was that neither the House nor the Senate ever got to a floor vote on the proposal.

About what happens next with the task force’s work, Johnson said they still must negotiate a deal with CMS in addition to finalizing the details of their own plan. That, he said, would take between now and the end of the year.

The plan must then still be taken to the General Assembly.

A joint statement released by House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh and Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart on the task force’s proposal said it will delay “even further the goal of affordable health care in the state of Tennessee.”

“Those who say this is not Insure Tennessee and we still need to have X, Y and Z – I think as long as we have the discussion going, the debate going, I applaud the speaker for taking this leadership position,” Johnson said. “We cannot afford not to be engaged in discussing how to expand Medicaid.”

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 0 133 1,342
MORTGAGES 0 131 1,047
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 19 170
BUILDING PERMITS 28 305 3,056
BANKRUPTCIES 25 98 716
BUSINESS LICENSES 4 26 302
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0