published Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Vince Dean bill helping local jails on some inmate medical costs passes

NASHVILLE -- The House took final action today on a measure expected to save local governments money on some jail inmate medical costs, sending the bill to Gov. Bill Haslam.

"This is a very very important bill," said bill sponsor Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge. "This will save our local governments a lot of money."

The bill seeks to shift costs on some inmates' care under specific circumstances to the federal government through Medicaid, operated in here as TennCare.

It authorizes the suspension instead of the termination of TennCare benefits for Medicaid-eligible inmates during incareration. Officials could then move to reinstate Medicaid benefits if the inmate is hospitalized for more than 24 hours in a facility outside a jail or correctional facility.

That's expected to help with lengthy, expensive hospitalizations.

The bill also authorizes jail officials to seek to establish TennCare benefits or renew assistance for inmates prior to their release from jail.

Dean told House colleagues that will help set up some inmates with psychiatric problems with medication once they are release back into the community.

Democrats as well as Republicans favored the legislation. But several Democrats said they found it ironic some inmates would be eligible for Medicaid assistance while the GOP-controlled Legislature refuses to expand Tenncare to a new category including an estimated 180,000 Tennesseans under the federal Affordable Care Act.

The bill is expected to decrease local jail expenditures in 2015-2016 by some $2 million annually, according to a fiscal note on an amendment. State expenditures would decrease by almost $500,000 while federal expenditures would be $3 million.

Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, sponsored the Senate bill, which passed 30-0 last week.

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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