Disabled citizens and advocates lobbied lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday, asking them to reconsider any cuts to the state’s TennCare program because it would reduce services for people they say need it the most.
Cutting back on the state’s health care program for low-income citizens will further injure the disabled, who likely need multiple hospitalizations and frequent doctors visits, both which could be reduced under the new cost-cutting plan, according to officials at the Tennessee Disability Coalition.
“The people it does affect are the people who are the sickest, the people who are the most disabled and the people who need health care the most,” said Carol Westlake, executive director of the disability coalition.
The proposed funding reductions will especially affect the disabled who also need serious and expensive ongoing medical attention, she said — though acknowledged they represent a small fraction of total TennCare enrollees.
Gov. Phil Bredesen is proposing that lawmakers amputate $200.7 million from the state’s TennCare program in an effort to balance next year’s tight state budget — although he’s quick to point out that things are tough all over in state government right now.
He also clipped 5.1 percent off the state budget, resulting in a $28.4 billion proposed budget that goes into effect July 1 and reduces many agency budgets by about 9 percent throughout state government.
TennCare, the state’s $7.6 billion health care program for low-income citizens, represents nearly a quarter of the total state budget. Bredesen wants to shrink that amount down to $6.8 billion between state and federal funds.
This year’s budget for TennCare calls for cuts in 25 areas, including limiting annual benefits at $10,000, restricting enrollees to eight outpatient procedures and nixing coverage for speech, physical and occupational therapies.
Most of those cuts will only affect a sliver of the total enrolled population, said TennCare spokeswoman Kelly Gunderson. About 60,000 out of the 1.2 million enrollees will eventually exceed one or more of the proposed new limits, she said.
The changes would exempt the 700,000 children and 60,000 pregnant women enrolled in TennCare. Individuals who qualify for Medicaid long-term care, which includes individuals in nursing homes and those enrolled in home care, will also bypass some of the limits, Gunderson said.
About 60,000 TennCare clients will, at one point, need to exceed at least one the new coverage limits, she said.
“It’s not fun being the bad guy,” said Kelly Gunderson, spokeswoman for TennCare. “It’s just a reflection of where the economic situation is right now. Most of these changes would not be changes we would be making if we had regular funding.”
Approximately 5,600 people are expected to exceed $10,000 in health care coverage, according to Gunderson, a number the coalition believes is mostly working-age, disabled individuals.