TennCare Block Grant Passes Senate Committees, House Expedities Consideration

Republicans In Tennessee Legislature Are Working Quickly To Advance Resolution Approving Implementation Of The Proposal.

Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville

Photo: Tennessee state Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland

Photo Credit: Mark Humphrey / AP

Published January 14, 2021

The Center Square [By Vivian Jones]-

Four days after Tennessee became the first state in the country to receive federal approval for a Medicaid block grant waiver, Republicans in the Tennessee Legislature were working quickly to advance a resolution approving implementation of the proposal.

Senate Joint Resolution 25 passed the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee and the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday afternoon along party line votes. The House voted Wednesday evening to suspend the rules to allow House committees to consider the proposal beginning Thursday.

“I believe that it is crucial that we allow TennCare the flexibility to manage its costs without the federal government involved in every step of the way,” said Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Chairperson Paul Bailey, R-Sparta. “It is time that we allow TennCare, instead of the federal government, to lead, and allow them to structure the best program for this state.”

Legislation requiring TennCare to seek the block grant waiver from the federal government passed in 2019. After more than a year of negotiation with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Tennessee received federal approval of the block grant waiver Friday.

Federal approval could be reversed by the Joe Biden’s incoming administration – a key factor in the Legislature’s accelerated timeline.

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House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, noted the timeline pressure while proposing the House suspend rules to enable committees to consider the block grant authorization as soon as Thursday.

“If we were to take advantage of this this week, it would be very difficult for any future administration to pull out of this agreement. I’m not saying it’s impossible, it certainly could,” Lamberth said. “But I do hope that they will listen to us, and respect the agreement that we made with the federal government.”

House Democrats objected to the speedy consideration of the proposal, arguing that more time should be spent considering the significant change in TennCare’s funding mechanism, but House Republicans voted to move forward to the committee process.

“I would like to reiterate that there will be no reduction in people served, no reduction in benefits, no reduction in provider rates and no reductions to quality or access of care,” Bailey said – a statement backed up by committee testimony from TennCare Director Stephen Smith.

The state’s current TennCare waiver will expire June 30. If implemented, the block grant waiver would take effect for the next 10 years.

While presenting the legislation, Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, said the money saved by good management should be reinvested into TennCare.

“The fruit of that excellent management has been afforded to the federal government, and there’s no sharing of those efficiencies in the program,” Johnson said. “This program, should it be implemented, will allow us to share in some of those efficiencies, which will generate, hopefully, additional dollars that can be plugged back into our healthcare program.”

The House Insurance Subcommittee is set to consider the TennCare block grant proposal Thursday morning.

Proud Tennessee Conservative

About the Author:

Vivian Jones, Center Square Staff Reporter

Vivian Jones reports on Tennessee and South Carolina for The Center Square. Her writing has appeared in the Detroit News, The Hill, and publications of The Heartland Institute.

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