Tennessee governor lauds Wellmont for participation in CoverTN program

Hank Hayes • Mar 9, 2007 at 12:03 PM

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen sounded thankful Thursday that Kingsport-based Wellmont Health System reconsidered and decided to be part of his CoverTN health care plan for working uninsured adults.

Previously, neither Wellmont nor Mountain States Health Alliance signed up to accept CoverTN, but Wellmont is now on board with the governor's health care initiative.

Bredesen will acknowledge Wellmont's decision with an East Tennessee launch of CoverTN during a visit to Holston Valley Medical Center today.

"To be able to effectively offer the product in Northeast Tennessee, we needed one of the two systems. ... I didn't know that we needed both of the systems in," Bredesen said of Wellmont's decision during a conference call with reporters. "I didn't do anything directly. I know (Finance Commissioner) Dave Goetz talked with Wellmont. ... I think they got their questions answered and ultimately came to what I think is the right decision, and I am very appreciative of them for doing that.

"This is something that everybody has got to put a little into ... to make it work. Wellmont's willingness to kind of rethink that and to step forward and say ‘We don't necessarily think this is perfect, but we will be there and we will try to help you make it work,' I think was the right decision, and I appreciate that very much."

Bredesen traveled to a small restaurant in downtown Nashville on Thursday to officially launch CoverTN, a basic health benefits plan for working uninsured Tennesseans. More than 4,500 small businesses have pre-qualified to participate in the program, which will be administered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee.

To promote personal responsibility, premiums are based on weight, tobacco use and age - with an average monthly premium of $50 each for the individual, the state and employers with 25 or fewer full-time workers.

CoverTN features no front-end deductibles, and pricing is simple and straightforward: $25 co-pays for a doctor's office visit and $10 for most prescription drugs. There is a $100 co-pay for an emergency room visit.

"During all the debates we've been having about health care and what health insurance is and who ought to have it and who ought to pay for it and all those kinds of things, it suddenly occurred to me one day that all of us doing the talking had health insurance," Bredesen said. "I said ‘Let's get some real insurance out there into the hands of some people who don't have insurance and who are working for these small businesses and see if we can't begin to do some help.' We know it's not perfect. We know it's not as comprehensive as we would love it to be someday, but it's practical and really does something good."

Cards for those participating in the CoverTN plan are expected to be available by April 1.

Bredesen said he expects up to 200,000 Tennesseans will sign up for the plan but noted he would settle for half that amount.

Those CoverTN participants, he said, were more interested in basic coverage than catastrophic coverage.

"They did want help with going to the doctor next month and getting a prescription filled next month and getting a lab test done next month, and we've oriented it that way," he explained.

Bredesen maintained he didn't want CoverTN to become another TennCare - the state's multibillion-dollar expanded Medicaid program that the governor reined in by cutting 170,000 enrollees from the program.

"I know you can't do something like this dramatically different and get it perfect on the very first shot," he said of CoverTN. "We want to get it out there, get some experience in it, and find out what people like and don't like about it. ... We're trying very hard not to make the TennCare mistake. ... I would rather under-promise and over-deliver, and that's what we're trying to do."

CoverTN is one element of Bredesen's Cover Tennessee plan Other than the basic coverage offered in CoverTN, the plan has other components: CoverKids, which offers comprehensive health coverage to uninsured children in Tennessee, age 18 and under, and pregnant women; AccessTN, which provides comprehensive health insurance for seriously ill adults who have been turned down by insurance companies; CoverRx, which offers affordable medication to low-income, uninsured Tennesseans; and Project Diabetes/Coordinated School Health, which expands an educational pilot project to schools across the state to teach healthy lifestyles and eating habits and launches a grant program to reduce type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Cover Tennessee is not an entitlement program - it is voluntary health insurance coverage.

For more information go to www.covertn.gov.

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