published Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Advocacy group warns against TennCare cuts


by Chris Carroll

A cut-happy Republican state Legislature should abstain from slashing health care programs for the poor and take advantage of millions in available reserves, according to a Nashville-based advocacy group for TennCare enrollees.

“If this were occurring and there were no pots of money out there, we wouldn’t have a choice,” said Tony Garr, deputy director of the Tennessee Health Care Campaign. “But gosh, we’ve got pots of money out there.”

Through the state’s Medicaid program, TennCare uses state and federal money to provide health care to Tennessee’s poor and uninsured. Legislators are proposing widespread reductions of nearly $130 million in state money, including mental health services, hemophilia treatments and C-section reimbursements.

TennCare matches two federal dollars to every state dollar spent, so total proposed cuts amount to more than $300 million, documents show.

Attempts to reach Gov. Bill Haslam for comment Monday were unsuccessful.

But in remarks Monday to reporters and editors at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Garr claimed Tennessee residents should shift their thinking beyond cuts and fiscal conservatism.

As an example, he cited the importance of pre-emptive care — treating mentally ill people so they don’t miss their medications, commit crimes and fill up the state’s jails.

“Because then, the county or the city has to pay for their health care,” he said.

All the cuts can be avoided, he said.

According to Haslam’s latest budget proposal, the state’s Rainy Day Fund shows a balance of $283.6 million, and the TennCare reserve fund balance — allocated for TennCare only — shows an additional $260.6 million.

Beth Uselton, executive director of Tennessee Health Care Campaign, likened the TennCare funding situation to a storm unlikely to dissipate anytime soon. She said an emergency TennCare injection through the Rainy Day Fund would stimulate the economy, along with providing better health care.

“It makes fiscal sense to use it toward TennCare because you bring in those two matching federal dollars,” she said. “When else are we going to use the Rainy Day Funds if not right now?”

Contact Chris Carroll at ccarroll@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6610.

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