Tennessee infant care program faces budget cuts

(WBIR) A state program that helps prevent birth complications could see millions of dollars in cuts.

TennCare sent its 2015 budget recommendations to Gov. Bill Haslam.

Haslam asked all state agencies to reduce costs by 5 percent. As a result, TennCare left out a grant that provides millions to five Regional Perinatal Centers.

Those centers are affiliated with the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, Vanderbilt University Medical Center (Nashville), UT Medical Center (Knoxville), Erlanger Medical Center (Chattanooga), and Johnson City Medical Center.

"It would make a severe change in all the five regional centers if that money was to go away," said Dr. Mark Gaylord, medical director for the UT Medical Center Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

TennCare is looking to cut its $2.25 million Perinatal Grant. The grant is matched with federal Medicaid funding for a total of $4.5 million.

Dr. Gaylord said UT Medical Center's clinic covers 19 counties in East Tennessee. Some of the grant money goes toward outreach education. He predicts much of that would end if funding stopped.

"Babies who are born anywhere between 23 and 25 weeks can be anywhere from $500,000 to a $1 million baby. So if we were to prevent four or five of those across the state, we would save the money for this grant. So it's money well spent," Dr. Gaylord said.

Tennessee ranks as one of the worst states for infant mortality. According to Dr. Gaylord, those numbers are improving but about 13 percent of babies in the state are still born premature.

In an email to 10News, TennCare Spokesperson Kelly Gunderson said:
"We have had to make reductions for several years in a row. We do not make these decisions lightly and as more reductions are made the decisions only become tougher. We certainly acknowledge the important function these centers perform, but given the other significant reductions we proposed including increased member co-payments and provider rate reductions, we feel we must include this reduction since it does not fund direct patient care."

Dr. Gaylord responded to the statement saying, "It's like immunizations-- you put $1 in, you save $10. If you can put money in to prenatal care, and stabilizing and caring for high-risk babies, you will save money in the end."

Gov. Haslam will look over TennCare's recommendations and then provide his own proposed budget to the state legislature.

UT Medical Center does plan to write to its representatives.


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