- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

July 6

Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel on failure to expand TennCare:

Thousands of Tennesseans would have better access to health care and the state’s economy would receive a boost if lawmakers would accept the federal government’s offer to underwrite an expansion of Medicaid.

A report released last week by the White House quantified the benefits of expansion Tennessee is foregoing by not expanding its Medicaid program, which is administered as TennCare.

Compiled by the White House Council of Economic Advisers, the report offers more evidence that Gov. Bill Haslam and the Legislature’s Republican supermajority are doing their constituents no favors by not expanding Medicaid.

The expansion, offered through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, would cover people and families who currently do not qualify for TennCare and earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level - $32,914 for a family of four. The federal government is committed to paying 100 percent of the expansion costs through 2016, with the level of support gradually dropping until it levels off at 90 percent in 2020.

So far, 26 states and the District of Columbia have expanded their Medicaid programs, providing health care coverage to 5.2 million low-income Americans. Tennessee and the 23 other states that have not expanded Medicaid will have deprived 5.7 million people access to coverage. In Tennessee, at least 234,000 people - a number roughly equal to the combined populations of Knoxville, Oak Ridge and Farragut - have been blocked from receiving coverage.

In states that have expanded Medicaid, the report notes, the number of people with Medicaid coverage has jumped 15.3 percent since enrollment began late last year. Those covered through Medicaid are much more likely to see a primary care physician and to obtain preventive care, such as mammograms and cholesterol screenings. Health outcomes also would improve. In Massachusetts, adult mortality rates fell 2.9 percent after that state’s health care reform, which was the model for the Affordable Care Act.

There are economic benefits as well. Expansion would reduce the number of Tennesseans facing catastrophic out-of-pocket medical expenses by 10,500, the report states. And the benefits are not restricted to individuals receiving coverage. Had Tennessee expanded Medicaid effective Jan. 1, the state would have seen $5.1 billion in new federal spending by 2016, as well as 21,700 new jobs. The state’s gross domestic product would have increased by $3.8 billion.

The report makes it clear that Tennesseans are paying a price - both in terms of economic opportunity and the health of low-income workers. Hospitals, too, are feeling the pain. The Affordable Care Act slashed funding for hospitals providing indigent care because Medicaid expansion would reduce the number of uninsured patients visiting emergency rooms. The failure to expand Medicaid was cited by the owners of Haywood Park Community Hospital in Brownsville, Tenn., when they announced the closure of the facility earlier this year. According to the Tennessee Justice Center, at least 53 other Tennessee hospitals, employing more than 21,000 people are at risk of closing.

Haslam has proposed an alternate plan that would allow those eligible for expanded Medicaid to purchase health insurance policies on the federally run exchange, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has not approved it. Other states, including Arkansas, Iowa and Michigan, have similar alternative programs.

The Legislature would have to sign off on any agreement. Given the Republican supermajority’s antipathy toward President Barack Obama’s health care reform law, approval would be unlikely. Still, lawmakers need to know how their inaction is harming their constituents, not the president. Expanding the state’s Medicaid program, either through TennCare or an alternative program, remains in the best interest of Tennesseans.

Online:

http://www.knoxnews.com

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