Majority supports TennCare growth, THA survey shows

Majority supports TennCare growth, THA survey shows

February 27th, 2013 by Kate Belz in Local Regional News

A new survey of insured Tennesseans shows a majority want the state to accept federal dollars to expand TennCare coverage.

The Tennessee Hospital Association released the findings of a statewide survey as the trade group continues to urge Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and the GOP-led Legislature to expand TennCare, the state's Medicaid program. Such expansion would be made possible through the Affordable Care Act.

The survey, commissioned by THA and funded by the American Hospital Association, shows that 59 percent of 600 insured, registered voters believe Tennessee should expand Medicaid. The survey has a margin of error of 5 percent.

About 35 percent of those surveyed said the state should not expand the program.

THA previously has said that TennCare expansion is critical to offset more than $5.6 billion in Medicare cuts Tennessee hospitals face over the next 10 years.

"The mandate is clear and decisive," THA President Craig A. Becker said in a statement. "Tennesseans believe accepting the funds and expanding the Medicaid population in the state would mean critical resources for our rural hospitals that are financially struggling and will be crippled by the cuts that already are law."

About 67 percent of those polled agreed that an expansion would boost already-struggling community hospitals, and 65 percent agreed that Medicaid expansion in Tennessee would ensure their federal tax dollars stayed in local health systems -- instead of being used in the nearly 30 other states that intend to expand their programs.

About 900,000 Tennesseans do not have health insurance, Becker said in an editorial board meeting with the Times Free Press earlier this month. Close to 200,000 would be eligible to enroll if the state agreed to an expansion.

The federal government will pay for 100 percent of the cost of expansion for three years, and has pledged to continue to pick up 90 percent of expenses after 2017.

But leaders in many states -- including Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley -- refuse to expand what they say is a defective program and a costly burden their states could not afford. Tennessee remains one of about a dozen states undecided on whether to expand Medicaid.

So far, 24 states have proposed to expand their states' Medicaid programs; eight are led by a Republican governor.

But just this past week, two high-profile, anti-Obamacare Republican governors reversed their previous stances. On Feb. 20 Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced he would propose expanding Medicaid, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced Tuesday that he would propose an expansion.

Haslam has said he continues to explore whether the Medicaid expansion makes sense to do.

The governor's efforts to encourage GOP legislative leaders to keep an open mind as well as hospitals' heavy PR and lobbying efforts and some other factors appear to be having some effect. House Speaker Beth Harwell and Republican Speaker Ron Ramsey have told fellow Republicans who have legislation to block expansion to hold off for now.

Meanwhile, House and Senate Democrats are pushing the expansion issue hard, calling for an up or down vote on a bill to approve the Medicaid expansion.

"Whether we expand Medicaid affects the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans and has profound implications for our state's budget," said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley.

Staff writer Andy Sher contributed to this report.