A bill working through legislature aims to require any able-bodied TennCare recipient to work, volunteer or go to school to remain on the program.
Danielle Alaimo has unexpectedly found herself in the middle of the battle at the state Capitol. Caught in the middle is her four-year-old son Malcom and thousands of other Tennesseans who get medical assistance from the state.
House Speaker Beth Harwell has championed the bill which would put strict requirements in place for the nearly 1.4 million people currently on TennCare.
Alaimo said she's worried she will be one of those people.
The single mother of two is currently the primary caretaker for 4-year-old Malcom who was born with a form of Cytomegalovirus. Essentially, the regulation center of his brain is missing, doctors never expected him to live more than a few weeks.
"Every birthday is huge. He's never not been happy, he's never known anything is wrong," Danielle said sitting in the living room of a family member's home in Nashville.
Because of his condition, Malcom can't function on his own. He's nearly deaf and can't speak. Before he was born Danielle had a full time job but she says her priorities had to change because of Malcom's constant need for care.
"My entire focus had to change, there was no going back to work. There was no hanging out with friends it was business, the business of keeping a child alive," she said.
Danielle is concerned that she will be targeted by the new TennCare work requirement. Even though she herself is chronically ill, she would technically be considered able-bodie and therefore required to work or be kicked off TennCare. Danielle though, says no job would afford her the pay or time off she needs to take care of Malcom.
She's now become a powerful player in the push back against the bill which has already passed the state House by a large majority.
"This is damaging to people, this is going to put a lot of families in jeopardy that don’t need to be," she added.
But House Speaker Beth Harwell says TennCare is not a lifetime entitlement program. Her goal with the bill is to reign in recipients who may be playing the system.
She released the following statement:
"I appreciate Rep. Dan Howell shepherding this bill through the process. It will only apply to able-bodied adults without dependent children under six, and exempts the medically frail, elderly, and caregivers. The requirement can be fulfilled through 20 hours of work, school (which is free through TN Reconnect), or volunteering. The goal of this legislation, and the waiver, is to move Tennesseans out of poverty, and education and employment are two of the biggest factors in doing so."
Estimates are that it could costs millions to try to implement such a program.
Harwell's bill is currently awaiting Senate approval, while Danielle is working to try to change minds of lawmakers who may listen.
"It’s not just about me, it’s about the thousands of people affected by this," said Alaimo.