TennCare debacle is bitter fruit of partisanship over governing

TennCare debacle is bitter fruit of partisanship over governing

July 12th, 2014 in Opinion Times

There is no excuse for Tennessee to have such a fouled-up TennCare application process.

It is outrageous.

Hundreds of Tennesseans remain in limbo thanks to an outrageously gummed up TennCare system and its delayed $35 million computer system.

Federal officials say in a harsh letter that the state's TennCare agency is failing to follow the federal law.

How fouled up is this system? Newborns who are TennCare eligible may not receive coverage for six months, and that's just one example. That means unpaid hospital care gets passed on to taxpayers and other paying customers.

Now the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid is requiring the state to submit a plan to remedy its problems no later than Monday.

Tennessee has failed to meet all but one of seven requirements to get a new eligibility system up and running under the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, federal officials say.

Finally, on the heels of the federal letter and deadline, two national legal advocacy groups have joined a Tennessee organization to "closely monitor" how TennCare responds to federal demands that it repair a dysfunctional application process that has caused the backlogs and delays of health care.

This is unnecessary, wasteful and embarrassing. And it's plainly partisan.

Tennessee's Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, is one of the GOP governors who declined to expand the state's Medicaid -- TennCare -- under the Affordable Care Act. In the process, Tennessee turned down federal money that taxpayers are already paying and will continue to pay whether Tennessee and Tennesseans benefit from it or not.

Tennessee's logjam and delayed computer system is supposed to be part of what's called the ACA's "no wrong door" rule -- meaning people should be able to submit a single, streamlined application for all potential sources of health coverage, applying online, over the phone or in person through both federal and state agencies.

It's a requirement of the Affordable Care Act, and the Haslam administration seems to be deliberately scuttling that -- just as he and other Republican governors tried to do with the entire ACA effort, simply because the GOP doesn't like the president or Obamacare, as the ACA also is known.

Now, of course, ACA is working and is growing in popularity all over the country. And as Tennessee couldn't get its own computer application process working, it has used the federal Healthcare.gov web site for TennCare approval. But Tennessee offered no one-on-one, real-person help for enrollment or re-enrollment in TennCare. To make matters worse, the existing state computer system wasn't set up to receive information from the federal system, so Tennesseans have been lost in limbo-land.

It was all convenient for Haslam's administration. The administration saved money by not having enrollment helpers; they saved money when applicants cannot get final approval or re-approval. And they blame Obamacare. Wrongly.

Meanwhile, Tennesseans are still paying the same federal taxes and not getting the benefit of them. Worst of all, many of our neighbors are still without health insurance. And hospitals such as Erlanger are picking up the tab but not being paid more through Medicaid expansion, even though that's what our tax dollars already are earmarked for.

Shame on Haslam and other Tennessee officials who put party over health care and fiscal sensibility. The state and its people deserve better.