Health-Care Reform Group Reacts to State Task Force Report

In The Daily Dumpster Blog by Thomas Fraserleave a COMMENT

Local advocates for health-care reform offered mixed reviews this week on the recommendations issued Thursday by a state panel empowered to find ways to help thousands of poor and uninsured Tennesseans gain coverage.

Phase one of the proposal, which must be approved by the General Assembly, calls for indigent health care to be made a priority for uninsured veterans and those with behavioral or mental health issues. It would allow them to seek coverage through regular TennCare affiliated health providers, and establish flexible medical savings accounts. It would also provide incentives for preventative health care.

The 3-Star Healthy Project was a controversial task force empaneled by state House Speaker Beth Harwell to seek ways to help close the “coverage gap” facing Tennesseans frozen out of both the state Medicaid program and coverage available through the federal Affordable Care Act. These “working poor” make too much for state coverage and too little to receive tax credits for ACA coverage.

One presumption in planning the ACA was the expansion of state Medicaid to provide coverage for the poor. But in Tennessee and other states, that did not occur.

Democrats and health-care reform advocates blasted the task force as a political stunt following its creation. The panel met in Knoxville in May to solicit information and ideas from the public and health care providers.

“We are thankful to the six members of the task force for their time and efforts in carrying out their charge to date. We are pleased that their proposal offers a real possibility for closing the gap,” Tennessee Health Care Campaign board member Richard Henighan said in a statement issued by the group on Thursday.

“However, we remain frustrated that we are now into the third year, heading for two more years, without a common sense solution for 300,000 Tennesseans who cannot afford health coverage. We have already lost almost $3 billion of federal money. People are dying weekly, untreated illnesses are worsening, families are going bankrupt, seven hospitals have already closed and more will,” Henighan said.

“This proposal does nothing to stop these calamities now. We call on CMS, the task force and the Legislature to move the process forward quickly, as quickly as possible. We are concerned about the details of Phase 1. Who, how many, how will it be paid for? We want to see Phase 2 implemented as soon as possible, not getting lost in a bureaucratic or legislative limbo.”

“Providing access to Tennesseans with mental issues and including coverage for 24,000 veterans is welcome news,” Tennessee Health Care Campaign member John G. Stewart said in the press release. “But let’s not kid ourselves: this is like Peyton Manning making a couple of first downs in the first quarter. We are pleased about these first downs but there are still three quarters to play. Fumbles, intercepted passes, bad plays are all possible. It is the same with the health task force proposal—there is hope that it will all turn out to be great but there are many hurdles to cross, many decisions to be made, and the outcome today is anything but clear,” Stewart said.

A copy of the plan overview provided by local members of the Tennessee Health Care Campaign is available here.

Knox County-based journalist Thomas Fraser is a native of Charleston, S.C. who grew up in Oak Ridge and Knoxville. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and has worked as an editor and reporter for daily newspapers and websites in Tennessee, North Carolina, New Jersey and Virginia.

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