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Tennessee's block grant bill now law after governor's signature

Governor Bill Lee signs healthcare overhaul
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Posted at 7:23 AM, Jan 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-15 20:01:56-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF/AP)  — Governor Bill Lee has signed the block grant waiver bill, a contentious plan to overhaul the state’s Medicaid program.

The Tennessee House passed the bill with a 70 to 22 vote on Friday, following about two hours of discussion on the House floor. The bill was quickly passed through both houses of the legislature and was signed by Gov. Bill Lee.

The plan would make Tennessee the first state to receive funding for its Medicaid program Tenncare through the federal government based on savings and inflation.

Republicans contend that states need more flexibility to shape their Medicaid programs while also being given the opportunity to rein in spending. Democrats, however, have warned that spending caps might cause states to purge their rolls or reduce services. Democrats instead want to widen Medicaid eligibility.

"I think the quality of care will be better because you'll be focusing on that they're healthy," said TN House Speaker Cameron Sexton. "So, you'll save money. If they're healthier, they're not using as many services as well. That's what all of the insurance plans try to do. What I will say is through the shared savings we can actually increase the waiting list for bids."

Sexton believes more Tennesseans who are uninsured will be included in the program because of the changes. However, opponents say it's not nearly as many as if the state would accept the $1.4 billion it would receive yearly for medicaid expansion.

"It's giving the state the ability to cut healthcare. And giving them the ability to cut healthcare. And at core, it's playing politics with healthcare in a time where people in both parties understand more than ever before how important healthcare is," said Michele Johnson, Executive Director of TN Justice Center.

Now that the bill has been signed into law, the new Tenncare can begin in under 30 days.

Tennessee received approval under President Donald Trump’s administration last week. Biden has opposed block-grant efforts and can rescind the change. This week's votes are required under the 2019 law passed by the General Assembly.