Gov. Phil Bredesen announced Wednesday that the state plans to dissolve TennCare, cutting up to 430,000 people from the financially troubled supplemental Medicaid program barring a last-minute reprieve.
The governor held out some hope for saving the program, announcing that he will try for seven more days to work out an agreement with legal advocates who have won several court decisions about the level of health care the state must provide to the 1.3 million TennCare enrollees.
Bredesen ran for governor two years ago with a promise to fix TennCare, whose $7.8 billion price tag was projected to mushroom in coming years, or to end it.
“It pains me more than I can describe to take this path,” Bredesen said during a news conference. “This is not what I planned for or what I dreamed about doing as governor.”
TennCare provides health care coverage for the poor, uninsured and disabled, covering 1.3 million Tennesseans, or about 22 percent of the state population.
The Legislature overwhelming approved last session Bredesen’s plan to overhaul the program, and it had been presented for approval by federal officials. The reform would have cut some benefits and required co-payments from some of the expansion population while slowing growth in costs.
Show-down with advocates
In the past, all TennCare participants had unlimited doctor visits and prescriptions. The stripped-down plan limited 270,000 of them to 12 doctor visits a year, 45 days in the hospital each year, eight outpatient hospital visits a year, 10 lab procedures or X-rays a year and six prescriptions a month.
Because of court challenges to the limited TennCare, Bredesen said, the only option would be to abandon it entirely unless the advocacy groups back off the challenges.
Almost all states offer some supplemental Medicaid benefits, but Bredesen has said Tennessee has been more generous than other states.