CHATTANOOGA — The head of the Tennessee Hospital Association says hospitals across the state are going to suffer if TennCare is not expanded under the new federal health care law.
While the U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld most of the Affordable Care Act, justices struck down a mandate for states to expand their Medicaid programs. The court gave states the choice of opting into the Medicaid expansion in 2014.
“We’re going to have to sit down with the administration to see what we can do about it,” Craig Becker, president of the Tennessee Hospital Association, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/N4WnCs). “It’s pretty clear that that is absolutely our Achilles heel right now.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, both Republicans, said they haven’t decided whether to expand Medicaid under a law they oppose. Tennessee’s Medicaid program is called TennCare, and currently covers about 1.2 million people.
Haslam and state Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes have said the state has other pressing needs in areas like education.
“We don’t really know what we’re going to do ... but the cost impact to the state is very significant,” Haslam told reporters last week.
In Tennessee, about 930,000 people, or 14.7 percent of the population, have no insurance, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
Becker said hospitals are worried because the health care law would drastically reduce special payments to hospitals that treat large numbers of Medicaid or uninsured patients.
The law assumes 30 million people nationwide will get coverage either through Medicaid or the individual mandate. The special payments will shrink $1 billion by 2019, Becker said.
“It would be pretty bad,” Becker said, noting many rural hospitals could be hard hit.
He said that while hospitals are eager for the Medicaid expansion, “we’re obviously aware it has to be done within the restraints of the budget.”
Gordon Bonnyman, executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center, a nonprofit law and advocacy group, said Tennessee’s non-participation in the Medicaid expansion would lead to “the collapse of a good portion of the hospital industry” in rural areas, and possibly cause a ripple effect.
“You just look at rural communities where in many counties the largest employer, or one of the top two or three, (is) the hospital,” Bonnyman said. “And when that closes, obviously that has a huge economic impact.”
Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com