MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Big changes are on the way for a program that more than 1.4 million Tennesseans rely on for healthcare.
In one of its final acts, the Trump administration approved a controversial block grant plan, allowing the State of Tennessee to receive federal funding for its Medicaid program, TennCare, in a lump sum.
On Friday, Tennessee lawmakers voted to implement the plan.
Gov. Bill Lee released a photo hours later showing him signing it into law.
“I have signed the block grant waiver resolution allowing Tennessee to lead the nation with our innovative solution to Medicaid,” Lee said. “Our TennCare system is one of the top Medicaid programs in the country and this new flexibility under the block grant model allows us to improve the health of Tennesseans and our communities.”
No state receives federal funding for Medicaid this way.
Tennessee will be the first.
“This gives us the ability to provide a higher quality of care,” said State Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville.
Supporters said it’ll offer the state more flexibility. Up to 55 percent of the money the state saves can be reinvested into other health programs.
“It is a unique Tennessee plan, and while that may make some uncomfortable, Tennessee has led in so many efforts over the years that have worked and this is our opportunity to do it again,” said State Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland.
The waiver the Trump administration approved is for 10-years.
Opponents said there are too many unknowns.
They fear it could lead to benefit cuts for the poor, including children and nursing home residents.
“It makes Tennessee the great American experiment or the guinea pig of the United States, “said State Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville.
Memphis State Representative G.A. Hardaway said the plan was also developed too quickly.
“I can’t go back to my community and tell them ‘Trust me. I don’t have any numbers. I don’t have any dates. I just want you to trust me that we’re going to save money,’” said Hardaway.
The block grant plan took effect immediately after Lee signed it.
But it may not be a done deal just yet.
Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper sent a letter to President-elect Joe Biden, asking him to rescind the plan after he takes office.
“The Trump Administration’s last-ditch effort to make it look like it actually helped Tennesseans is a failure. The block grant is a dangerous experiment in the middle of a pandemic,” said Cooper.