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Waiting Game for Expanding Tenn. Health Coverage

Supporters of Insure Tennessee say it will reduce the number of unnecessary emergency room visits by uninsured residents, but state politics have delayed its implementation. Credit: Kenn Kiser/Morguefile.
Supporters of Insure Tennessee say it will reduce the number of unnecessary emergency room visits by uninsured residents, but state politics have delayed its implementation. Credit: Kenn Kiser/Morguefile.
September 22, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Almost 300,000 Tennesseans would have access to health coverage if Governor Bill Haslam's Insure Tennessee plan is implemented – but not everyone is happy with the Republican governor's support for expanding coverage.

Last week, the state Attorney General determined the plan must have the approval of the General Assembly.

The setback doesn't sit well with Michelle Johnson, executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center. She says the governor's Insure Tennessee plan represents a bipartisan effort to help the state's working poor.

"He worked very heard to make a plan that was unique to Tennessee, to bring down the billions of dollars in federal funds, that are ours, that are set aside for us," she says. "It fixes the problem of 280,000 uninsured folks, including 24,000 veterans."

If enacted, Insure Tennessee would make the state eligible for more than $2.6 million dollars a day in federal funds. A recent Vanderbilt University poll found 64 percent of Tennesseans support the program, but its opponents say it could increase the federal deficit – and they have doubts about whether the federal government will continue funding as promised.

Johnson says it's important to remember that 50 percent of the Tennesseans who would benefit from the expansion are working people who have fallen into the gap of being uninsured.

"These are the secretaries and the construction workers," she says. "They're students, they're people who are domestic violence victims who are recently divorced. These people aren't covered by TennCare. They're in some cases too rich for TennCare, or they don't fall in the right category for TennCare."

The federal government has said it will cover the full cost of the expansion for the first three years, and 90 percent of the cost after that. The state would be responsible for the remaining 10 percent.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN