Harwell task force: Medicaid for veterans, those with behavioral disorder

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — GOP lawmakers on Thursday for the first time presented details of a more limited approach to Medicaid expansion than was envisioned by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s failed Insure Tennessee proposal.

Members of a task force appointed by Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell said the 3-Star Health proposal would first focus on extending coverage to uninsured people with behavioral health problems and to veterans. The program would include health savings accounts, incentives for healthy living and penalties for improper use of emergencies.

Republican Rep. Cameron Sexton of Crossville said the task force has presented its plan to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services but acknowledged that no other state has been approved for a similar approach.

“We’re looking for a measured approach, where we can have a phased-in approach to work toward closing the gap,” he said.

The proposal would also need the approval of the GOP-controlled Legislature, which rejected Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal to extend coverage to 280,000 people amid fears that it was too closely linked to President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

Sexton said it’s not yet certain how much the task force’s proposal would cost, or how many people it would cover.

“We hope to have a better idea of that when we get closer to knowing if this direction is OK with CMS,” he said.

The state has estimated that up to 114,000 people with behavioral health issues could be eligible for coverage, while up to about 25,000 uninsured could qualify.

State Democrats have criticized Harwell for not getting behind the governor’s Insure Tennessee proposal. They suggest her efforts to create a new proposal are a charade to deflect political pressure.

Michele Johnson, executive director of the health care advocacy group Tennessee Justice Center, said the new proposal “it is more conservative than we would have wanted, but it is a constructive path to closing the coverage gap.”

Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville, said the group of lawmakers made the case to federal officials in Washington that a new approach may appeal to the other states that have so far opted out of Medicaid expansion.

“We are the reddest of red states, and there are 19 states that have not done this expansion,” he said. “Let us be a test case, and if it works for us the other 19 might jump on board because the see the benefit.”

Rep. Caren Camper of Memphis is the lone Democratic member of the task force.

“Obviously I had some difference with my fellow members in terms of I want full Insure Tennessee,” she said. “But we knew that wasn’t possible.

“So we did step back for a moment and think about what is politically wise, and what is policy wise?”

Camper said she’s hoping there may be a “third option” if the federal government doesn’t agree with the approach offered by the task force. She declined to say what other options might be considered.

Note: Here are some emailed comments on the task force recommendations:

Democratic legislative leaders:
Joint statement today from House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh and Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Stewart on 3 Star Health Panel proposal:

Our fear with this proposal is that it delays even further the goal of affordable healthcare in the State of Tennessee. This proposal leaves most of the 280-thousand Tennesseans…. who have been waiting for four years on healthcare coverage… STILL waiting for at least another 2 years. And that’s if the plan is approved by Washington with no changes or delays. We already have a fully approved plan—Governor Haslam’s Insure Tennessee Plan. As Rep. Karen Camper, who worked tirelessly on this 3 Star Task Force and supports Insure Tennessee, said unfortunately the Republicans in the Legislature just aren’t going to let that happen.

Beacon Center of Tennessee
NASHVILLE – Today, Speaker Beth Harwell’s organized healthcare task force, the “3 Start Healthy Project,” ​ released a tentative outline of their ​ plan to expand government healthcare in Tennessee​. While the Beacon Center has committed to working with task force members on exploring market-based, innovative solutions to improve access and quality of care, they remain cautious of the proposed plan.

Beacon Policy Director Lindsay Boyd​,​ who testified against ​Gov. Haslam’s ​ Medicaid expansion​ proposal​ ​during the 2015 legisl​ative session reacted by stating, ” ​ The Beacon Center has ​serious reservations about the ​ direction​ and shape​ this proposal ​may take . ​Because it is incomplete in regard to the details needed to assess the sustainability, flexibility, and socio-economic impact of such a program, we must withhold judgement ​as we​ continue to​ meet​ and discuss these plans​ ​in greater depth ​ with members of the task force​. “​

Boyd went on to note, “The Beacon Center ​remains consistent in our opposition to ​ ​ ​ ​an expansion of Medicaid​​ under the Affordable Care Act, ​ and ​will not support efforts that may jeopardize the state’s autonomy, economy, and access to care for those most vulnerable patients already enrolled in the state’s already crowded Medicaid program. ”

Tennessee Democratic Chair Mary Mancini
Nashville, Tn (June 30, 2016) — TNDP chair Mary Mancini responded to Speaker Harwell’s healthcare task force plan today by focusing on ordinary hardworking Tennesseans who can’t afford access to quality healthcare.

“What are hardworking Tennesseans supposed to do while they are waiting to get trained for better jobs? What are they supposed to do while they are waiting for “Phase 1” of Bethcare to be analyzed? These folks are already motivated. They’re already working two and three jobs to make ends meet. They don’t need job training, they need to see a doctor.

Insure Tennessee is a workable solution introduced by a Republican governor to a Republican supermajority in the House and Senate. Speaker Harwell could have worked to pass it and it would have almost immediately helped hard working Tennesseans gain access to affordable health care. Now it’ll be seven more months while Republicans negotiate Bethcare with the Federal government, then another who knows how long until the Republican legislature (maybe) passes the plan, and another 12 to 18 months for more analysis.

While they negotiate and study and “phase in,” hundreds of thousands of hardworking Tennesseans – with jobs – are without access to affordable healthcare, hospitals are closing, people are losing jobs, and families can’t afford to take their children to the doctor when they’re sick. This is absurd.”