published Thursday, October 17th, 2013

161,000 low-income, adult Tennesseans could fall in 'health gap'

Local and national coverage

NASHVILLE — A new analysis warns that 161,650 low-income, adult Tennesseans risk disappearing into a health "coverage gap" when the federal Affordable Care Act largely takes effect on Jan. 1.

The Kaiser Family Foundation's report says two factors are at play:

• Tennessee has yet to agree to expand its Medicaid program under Obamacare, which the law originally mandated for states but now makes voluntary under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

• Meanwhile, these poor men and women don't qualify for financial assistance to buy private health insurance in the new online marketplaces known as exchanges. It was expected that the expanded Medicaid programs would help these poorest of the poor.

Tennessee is one of 26 states, many of them with Republican governors, that have refused to go along with the Medicaid expansion, at least for now. Georgia and Alabama also have decided not to participate. It is estimated that 650,000 Georgians who lack insurance would qualify for an expanded Medicaid program if one were offered. In Tennessee, that number is about 400,000.

Dr. Mary Headrick, a Crossville, Tenn., physician who has championed health reform for three decades, has said that not helping the poorest of citizens get the care they need "just isn't right."

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said he still hopes to get the Obama administration to go along with his proposed "Tennessee Plan" on the expansion. It calls for the state to buy Medicaid-eligible Tennesseans' way onto insurance exchanges.

But Haslam also wants to exclude them from traditional Medicaid rules and require higher co-payments, which federal officials have balked at doing.

Earlier this week, Haslam told reporters that while discussions on his expansion proposal are continuing there's been "nothing new" in terms of progress.

Further discussions with the administration have "obviously been a little bit inhibited" by the ongoing federal government shutdown as well as the rocky rollout of the exchanges, Haslam said.

Moreover, the governor revealed, federal officials also are questioning the state over its plan to get health providers to cut their costs for care.

"I wouldn't declare it dead at all," Haslam said.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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