Pro-Insure TN Group Releases Report on Health Coverage ‘Gap’

Press release from the Tennessee Justice Center, Nov. 17, 2015:

Tennessee Justice Center Releases “Counting the Cost” Report, Shows Statewide Impact of Health Care Gap

New report details statewide reach of Tennessee’s health care gap, suggests positive impact Insure Tennessee would have on state’s health, hospitals and local economies

Nashville, Tenn. (November 17, 2015) – A new report released today by The Tennessee Justice Center (TJC) reveals the tremendous negative impact that the state’s health care “gap” is having on local communities. Called “Counting the Cost: How the Gap in Health Care Coverage Impacts All Tennesseans,” the report found that every Tennessee community is affected by the health care gap.

Based on a cross section of data collected from Tennesseans participating in 11 community meetings across the state, participants reported knowing an average of 28 people in the health care gap – those who earn too little to pay for private insurance, but don’t qualify for TennCare. In all, 280,000 Tennesseans have no access to health care.

The report also includes an analysis of Tennessee hospitals’ budgets which shows more than 40 Tennessee hospitals are struggling financially. The most recent data from the state shows that 31 percent of in-patient hospital visits in Tennessee are made to hospitals at risk.

TJC points to Governor Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan as a needed solution that would provide access to health care to uninsured Tennesseans, and stability to the state’s healthcare infrastructure.

“Counting the Cost shows, without question, that Tennessee’s health care gap reaches far beyond the thousands of people without health insurance,” said Michele Johnson, executive director of TJC. “The gap is damaging entire communities’ economies, and without a plan like Governor Haslam’s Insure Tennessee, dozens of the state’s hospitals are also vulnerable.”

As part of Counting the Cost, TJC and volunteers across the state coordinated community meetings throughout the summer of 2016 to collect on-the-ground information about the ways the state’s health care gap is affecting local communities. Meetings were held in Brownsville, Chattanooga, Centerville, Gallatin, Kingsport, Knoxville, McKenzie, Memphis, Morristown, Nashville and Shelbyville.

During the Counting the Cost tour, the team distributed a questionnaire that asked participants how many people they knew who were living in the health care gap and would be eligible for Insure Tennessee. Participants also were asked how far they would have to travel for medical care if the local hospital closed its in-patient services.

According to questionnaire results and discussion at the community meetings, 12 percent of respondents know 50 or more people in the health care gap. On average, respondents know 28 people in the health care gap. One to two of those 28 individuals in the health care gap will die this year due to inadequate health care, based on recent data published by HealthAffairs.org.

Before embarking on the statewide tour, TJC conducted an analysis of budgets for Tennessee hospitals, which the Tennessee Department of Health posts publically. By looking at five-year trends, the team identified over 40 facilities that meet the criteria for having a troubled bottom line, meaning that revenue does not meet costs or is consistently trending downward.

The report also sheds light on the negative impact the state’s health care gap has on those who are covered by private health insurance. For example, results suggest that when hospitals with troubled bottom lines are forced to close due to lack of revenue, a significant distance can be placed between patients, insured or uninsured, and the care they need. Twenty-two percent of respondents would have to drive at least 20 additional miles to receive medical care if the nearest hospital to them closed, and approximately 40 percent of respondents would have to drive at least 30 minutes to reach the next closest hospital. This increased distance could be a matter of life or death in dire medical situations.

The Counting the Cost tour was created in response to the Tennessee legislature failing to pass Governor Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan in 2015. The plan hit a roadblock when seven state senators voted to stall the measure and refused to allow a vote by the full legislature. Since then multiple polls have shown a large majority of Tennesseans support Insure Tennessee, including a poll from Vanderbilt University showing that 64 percent of Tennesseans are in favor of Governor Haslam’s plan. As a result, TJC staff and volunteers traveled to communities across the state to host informational meetings with local citizens to hear directly from impacted Tennesseans.

“Our goal was to meet Tennesseans in their communities and hear from them firsthand,” added Johnson. “We wanted to collect real stories about access to health care, concerns about vulnerable hospitals and the impact it is having on local economies. Refusing a health care plan that won’t cost the state a thing is already costing communities dearly, and I believe we’ve clearly documented this as a result of Counting the Cost.”