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Haslam: TennCare Signing Up Lots of New Enrollees

The Volunteer State’s Medicaid program, TennCare, has been criticized by the Obama administration for not providing enough assistance to seekers of government aid under the Affordable Care Act.

But Gov. Bill Haslam this week defended the program, which enables lower-income residents to obtain taxpayer-financed health insurance and medical care. He said the number of Tennesseans finding their way on to TennCare’s rolls is on record pace.

“I think it’s worthy of note, we’ve signed up more people for TennCare this year than we ever have in the history of the program since it originated,” Haslam told reporters following an event to promote his new free-community-college program.

Actually, the governor’s estimates may be stretching it some. But 2014 does indeed appear so far to be tracking among years with the highest number of new sign-ups, John Goetz, a spokesman for the TennCare program, told TNReport in an email.

First-quarter TennCare signups this year were “the third highest in the 20-year history of the program,” wrote Goetz.

Dave Smith, Haslam’s spokesman, told TNReport by email that the governor had in fact “combined two stats: the number of new enrollees added in the first quarter was the highest in at least the last four years and the third highest in the 20-year history of the program.”

According to numbers pulled about three weeks ago, TennCare added 67,411 “new enrollees” to the program in the first quarter of 2014. The program enrolled 57,737 in the first quarter of 2013, 60,325 in the first quarter of 2012 and 62,065 in the first quarter of 2011.

TennCare was criticized by the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in late June for failing to provide aid and services required under the Affordable Care Act.

The Haslam administration was told by the Obama administration to quickly develop plans for getting its still-under-construction computer system online. In the meantime, the feds want Tennessee to establish a more adequate temporary enrollment process for hospitals to sign people up for government-funded insurance.

The feds claim that in wake of ACA implementation, Tennessee stopped providing personnel to help people sign up for TennCare, and instead began directing them to use the federal health care exchange at healthcare.gov — which has had problems of its own.

TennCare officials don’t see things in quite the same light.

The director of the state’s Medicaid program, Darin Gordon, sent Cindy Mann, federal director of Medicaid, a 16-page letter saying Tennessee “must respectfully disagree” with much of the Obama administration’s criticisms. Gordon’s letter asserted that in every county in Tennessee a TennCare agent is on duty and available for face-to-face meetings with potential aid-recipients to help them negotiate the complexities of state-and-federal Medicaid bureaucracy.

As for the state’s computer system, Gordon said that Northrop Grumman, the company who won the contract to produce the computer system, has missed several deadlines. Gordon added that while TennCare will continue to work toward “successful implementation” of the system, they would not “go live with a system that has not been adequately tested.”

The letter did include an “updated mitigation plan,” but Gordon also wrote in the letter that it was only an “interim solution pending completion” of a new computer enrollment system.

TennCare is also being sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Health Law Program and the Tennessee Justice Center on behalf of several Tennesseans who say they were illegally denied coverage.