published Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Majority of Tennesseans want TennCare expansion, hospitals’ survey shows

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A new survey of insured Tennesseans shows the majority of those polled want the state to accept federal dollars to expand TennCare coverage to more residents.

The Tennessee Hospital Association (THA) released the findings of a statewide survey it commissioned on Tuesday afternoon, as they continue to urge Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and the GOP-led Legislature to expand TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program. Such expansion would be made possible through the Affordable Care Act.

The survey, commissioned by THA and funded by the American Hospital Association, shows that 59 percent of 600 insured, registered voters believe Tennessee should expand Medicaid.

About 35 percent of those surveyed said they feel the state should not expand the program.

THA has previously said that TennCare expansion is critical to offset more than $5.6 billion dollars in Medicare cuts facing Tennessee hospitals over the next 10 years through the Affordable Care Act.

“The mandate is clear and decisive,” said THA President Craig A. Becker said in a statement. “Tennesseans believe accepting the funds and expanding the Medicaid population in the state would mean critical resources for our rural hospitals that are financially struggling and will be crippled by the cuts that already are law.”

About 67 percent of those polled agreed that an expansion would boost already-struggling community hospitals, and 65 percent agreed that Medicaid expansion in Tennessee would ensure their federal tax dollars stayed in local health systems — instead of being used in the nearly 30 other states that intend to expand their programs.

About 900,000 Tennesseans do not have health insurance, Becker said in an editorial board with the Times Free Press earlier this month.

Close to 200,000 would be eligible to enroll if the state agreed to an expansion.

The federal government will pay for 100 percent of the cost of expansion for three years, and has pledged to continue to pick up 90 percent of expenses after 2017.

But leaders in many states — including Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley — refuse to expand what they say is a defective program and a costly burden their states could not afford.

Tennessee remains one of about a dozen states undecided on whether to expand Medicaid.

So far, 24 states have proposed to expand their states’ Medicaid programs, though only 8 of those are led by a Republican governor.

But just this past week, two high-profile, anti-“Obamacare” Republican governors reversed their previous stances against expanding Medicaid. On Feb. 20 Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced he would propose expanding Medicaid last week, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced today that he would propose an expansion in his state.

For more information, read Wednesday’s Times Free Press.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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