State still waiting to hear word about Medicaid waiver

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Tennessee has not given up his efforts to get its first-of-a-kind Medicaid block grants approved by CMS.



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State Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol.

Tennessee officials are hoping to get a response soon from the federal government regarding the state’s year-old request for a block grant waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The proposal would amend the way the state distributes its Medicaid dollars through the TennCare program.

In November 2019, Tennessee became the first state to submit a block grant waiver to the federal authority under a new law approved by the state General Assembly.

State Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, said under this amendment, Tennessee is asking to convert the federal share of its Medicaid funding, which totals more than $7.9 billion annually, into a block grant to “provide core medical” services under TennCare.

“The goal is to provide the state an opportunity to address the specific health care needs of all Tennesseans, while lowering costs and increasing access to patient-centered care,” said Crowe, who presides as chairman of the state Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

If an agreement is reached between the state and federal governments on the waiver, Crowe said the plan will come back to Tennessee lawmakers for a final vote during the 2021 legislative session. The 112th session of the state General Assembly is scheduled to convene on Jan. 12.

Repub-licans, who hold a supermajority in the General Assembly, say the waiver gives Tennessee more flexibility to supervise its Medicaid programs while also providing the state with an opportunity to rein in spending.

“Tennessee has completely different health care needs across its nearly 500-mile span,” state Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, said Tuesday. “This will give us a better opportunity to disperse those Medicaid dollars to meet those needs.”

Lundberg said the state officials are hoping to hear word of the waiver before President Donald Trump leaves office.

“We really don’t know how the new administration will react,” Lundberg said.

Officials say approval of the Medicaid waiver has been delayed as federal authorities have asked the state for more details to clarify the proposal.

In the meantime, recommendations from a legislative panel appointed to study possible changes to the state’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program is expected to be considered by the General Assembly in 2021. Tennessee has $741 million in unspent funds from the federal block grant program that supports Tennessee’s Families First program.

Families First provides support to Tennessee families in need of child care assistance, temporary cash assistance, transportation and job training.

“Discussions on how to best allocate the unspent funds were interrupted by COVID-19 last session,” Crowe said.

The Johnson City senator said he will sponsor legislation to require the state’s Department of Human Services submit an annual report to the General Assembly that includes information pertaining to TANF program. Crowe said that report would give details of organizations receiving TANF funds, and how recipients are spending those dollars.