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Gov. Lee signs resolution to authorize Medicaid block grant program

A resolution to authorize a TennCare waiver program passed in the Tennessee House of Representatives Friday morning and would go into effect immediately.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s Medicaid program may be in for some changes. A resolution to authorize and implement a TennCare waiver program passed in the Tennessee House of Representatives Friday morning and would go into effect immediately.

Governor Bill Lee also signed the resolution on Friday. He said that the flexibility from the program would allow state leaders to continue improving TennCare.

Last week the federal government approved a Medicaid block grant waiver amendment for Tennessee. It would be the first state to get Medicaid funding in a lump sum.

The Tennessee General Assembly considered a joint resolution about the TennCare waiver. It would authorize and implement what the federal government has already approved, but there’s a lot of unknowns that come with the plan.

As lawmakers debated the program News4 in Nashville, a sister station with WBIR, spoke with people worried about their loved ones’ care.

“I think it needs to be stopped before harm is done,” said Tina Claxton, whose daughter is insured by TennCare.

Claxton’s daughter Abigail was born with a rare metabolic storage disease called Hurler Syndrome.

The 25-year-old is insured through TennCare. Her mom said it’s critical to have that coverage.

“It’s her life. It is. It’s her life,” said Claxton. “At this point in the ball game, without TennCare coverage, without us having the broad spectrum of medication that we’re able to get for her now, I mean it’s what’s keeping her alive.”

More than a year ago Gov. Bill Lee submitted the proposal for Medicaid block grant funding to the federal government. It was approved last week.

Supporters said it would allow some flexibility.

“We’re not confined to a certain set of money from here to eternity,” said House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville. “We think it will be very beneficial for Tennesseans and also for TennCare to promote healthy outcomes.”

Critics like U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper will ask the incoming Biden administration to reverse the waiver.

“It’s really a way for Tennessee state officials to shortchange Medicaid recipients. It offers the possibility of savings from an unspecified source and that money saved could be spent for non-healthcare purposes,” said Cooper, D-TN, who represents Davidson County.

For mothers like Claxton, she worries what it will mean for her daughter and others in Tennessee.

“My concern is we’re not focusing on the health of the people in the state. We are focusing on a piece of paper that says we can get 'X' amount of dollars, and this is what’s going to happen,” said Claxton.

The resolution is expected to be heard on the floor as early as Friday where it will likely pass. If approved, it will take effect immediately.

This story was originally reported by WSMV in Nashville.