TennCare Advocates Fear Slated Cuts And Possible Further Cuts

Advocates for disabled citizens argued Wednesday against cuts in TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program. They say the cuts will force many of them into nursing homes and mental institutions.

Dylan Brown of Hendersonville gets around in a wheelchair. He also works at the Center for Independent Living helping other disabled Tennesseans find a way to live better.

“If I didn’t have a disability, I could live off my salary, and …pay my own way with rent and all my bills and I’d be fine, but since I do have a disability there’s a lot of costs that go along with that. And with TennCare coverage I get durable medical equipment covered, and private duty nursing covered.”

Advocates fear the nursing assistance will be cut. A limit to outpatient services and lab work is already slated to occur, and advocates fear those cuts will disrupt the lives of people who can currently live on their own.

The Tennessee Disability Coalition says the state should find new ways to raise funds to match federal Medicaid dollars, including a new fee proposed by the Tennessee Hospital Association.

The Tennessee Disability Coalition argued against TennCare cuts including a $10,000 cap on hospital stays, and limits on out-patient visits.

Anthony Fox, executive director of the Tennessee Mental Health Consumers Association, says the cuts will fall on the most vulnerable.

“TennCare participants are the most medically and financially challenged citizens of Tennessee. Many individuals will be forced away from basic medical and mental health treatment because of the inability to pay for the co-pay of transportation.”

One proposed TennCare change being fought by advocates is a $2 “co-pay” per trip on the costs of transportation to a treatment center.

Dylan Brown says at the Center for Independent Living he has to try to help people who are already stretched fine in trying to cope with their lives.

“I’ve got a full time job with the Center for Independent Living. And a big part of our whole mission, as a non-profit organization… our mission is to help people with disabilities find a greater level of independence, and live on their own…trying to help them find good transportation options, or housing, or employment opportunities, It puts me in a situation where I can see how many others are in similar situations or, unfortunately, far worse situations.”

Lately the center has been contacted by persons frightened of losing their TennCare benefits, he says.

“Specifically the ones that stick out in my mind – there’s been quite a few people with mental health issues. …With their TennCare coverage, they’re able to buy their prescription drugs for a total of, most of the time, fifty or a hundred dollars a month.But if they lose their TennCare coverage, all of a sudden that expense goes up to four or five thousand dollars, plus, sometimes, a month. You know, that’s a huge number.”

The president of the American Association of People with Disabilities, Andy Imparato, told advocates meeting on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill that the state already behind in offering support services.

“Tennessee has been slow to provide services and supports in the community. They’ve got a pretty disproportionate percentage of their money going to institutions, nursing homes, and other settings.”

Imparato says moving persons with disabilities to institutions simply increases the costs to taxpayers.

He says Tennessee is not alone in facing challenges trying to fund Medicaid.

“This year is just an incredibly tough budget year, all around the country. California had an 87 percent proposed cut in their in-home supportive services program. A number of states have proposed draconian cuts.”

Imparato says other states have forged ahead with support services for those who want to remain at home.

“Medicaid is a partnership between the federal government and the state. And some states use their optional services to fill in, in areas that aren’t required by the federal government.”

Our most recent story on TennCare funding:
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