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Under Pressure, TN Officials Hold Memphis Hearing on Medicaid Block Grant


Proposed changes to the state’s Medicaid program, TennCare, will finally get a hearing in the county with the highest number of Medicaid enrollees in the state.

After initially not planning a Memphis event, officials will now make a trip here October 15to field feedback on a controversial plan to alter the way the federal government funds the state's healthcare safety net for low-income Tennesseans.

Public hearings were held in Nashville, Knoxville and Jackson last week.

Some lawmakers and healthcare advocates questioned why TennCare officials previously decided to sidestep Memphis as Gov. Bill Lee pushes his new block grant proposal. 

Democrats critical of the plan, such as U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen and state Representative Karen Camper, have noted that Shelby County residents have a lot at stake given the large local population that rely on Medicaid—about 250,000 people.

“There’s no question that if you’re going to find out whether something works or not, and you’re going to not ask the people in Memphis whether it works or not, then you probably aren’t super interested in getting to the information you need to create something that's based on data,” says Michele Johnson, executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center, a patient advocacy group.

Republicans say the $8 billion block grant would give Tennessee more local flexibility with low-income healthcare and save the state money. Currently, the federal government reimburses Tennessee based on Medicaid claims instead of through a pre-determined amount of money as Lee's plan proposes. 

Opponents at public hearings earlier this monthhave said the policy could lead to potential cuts in the TennCare program and that patients would be better off if Tennessee expanded the program under the Affordable Care Act as other states have done. 

The new public forum will be held Oct. 15 at 1:30 p.m. at the University of Memphis.