State's court dependency will cost us again with TennCare

State's court dependency will cost us again with TennCare

September 3rd, 2014 in Opinion Times

What is it about Tennessee officials and lawmakers that makes this state so dedicated to saying no to smart policy and yes to spending our dollars stupidly?

This week, we've seen yet another federal court ruling - this one on a TennCare lawsuit - that will force us to spend many more millions of dollars that we knew from the get-go we would spend. Now we'll spend more - including untold millions on litigation and a final, more expensive fix.

A federal judge Tuesday ruled against Tennessee's Medicaid agency, granting class action status to a lawsuit filed against the state agency by 11 patients who alleged months-long delays getting TennCare coverage.

The ruling means that potentially hundreds of Tennesseans can join the lawsuit against the state, according to a story in today's Times Free Press by Kate Harrison Belz. The lawsuit was filed against TennCare by the Tennessee Justice Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Health Law Program.

Additionally, U.S. District Judge Todd J. Campbell ruled that TennCare must find a way to quickly determine eligibility for people who have waited months to find out their application status.

"Plaintiff class members are economically impoverished and, without TennCare benefits, have foregone or are foregoing vital medical treatments, services and prescriptions," the judge wrote. "These injuries cannot be made whole by a retroactive award of money after the litigation process is complete."

Is that the sound and smell of more money flying from Tennessee's coffers?

Doesn't it just make you red? Red with anger, not partisan GOP red.

In 2013, Tennessee's Republican Gov. Bill Haslam (and our GOP-controlled General Assembly) joined up with other Affordable Care Act obstructionists. Tennessee turned down free federal money to expand Medicaid (TennCare in Tennessee). That free money - $1.4 billion of our tax dollars in the first year alone - would have paid 100 percent of the new cost to the state for that year and the coming two years. Thereafter, federal money would have paid 90 percent of the cost.

Haslam had said he would seek a waiver from the ACA, and federal officials said they would entertain a proposal. We and the feds are still waiting on the details of that proposal. Meanwhile, TennCare officials have been moving glacially on another ACA-required effort that involved state-streamlined application programs. Tennessee spent more than $35.7 million on a computer program called the "Tennessee Eligibility Determination System," or TEDS. It was supposed to begin handling Tennesseans' Medicaid enrollment last October under the ACA. Along the way, Tennessee eliminated the positions of real people to help residents get TennCare or ACA coverage.

The TEDS system still isn't operational. Recently the state approved a $1.2 million bid for a consultant to figure out what's wrong with it. In the meantime, state officials directed people signing up for TennCare to go through the federal HealthCare.gov site, which isn't set up to handle TennCare applications. The result has been months of long delays for people trying to sign up for coverage. That's what prompted the lawsuit.

As usual, the ruling won't be free. Tennessee has slow-walked compliance on other programs and waited to be ordered by a court to finally comply - millions of dollars in extra cost later. Children's Services comes to mind, as do several school funding lawsuits, along with a number of other issues.

On Tuesday, Sara Zampierin, a staff attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, called the judge's decision "a profound victory" for all of Tennessee.

"The court's ruling today will require TennCare (officials) to do their job and ensure that the people who have been stuck waiting for a decision for months will be able to finally receive the health care they deserve," she said.

Yes, once again, the courts had to tell our state officials to do their jobs.

Enough, already.