Rep. Hill’s legislation on Healthcare passes House greeted with mixed reaction.

By Tamas Mondovics

Earlier this month, republican lawmakers approved Rep. Timothy Hill’s (R-Blountville) legislation of what he says “will empower Tennessee to lead on healthcare by creating a patient-centered system that addresses the unique needs of our citizens while lowering overall costs.”
House Bill 1280 calls on the Governor, acting through the Commissioner of Finance & Administration to submit a waiver to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to immediately provide assistance to the state’s TennCare population through the implementation of block grants.
Hill’s office emphasized that the legislation is “designed to transform healthcare through Consumerism, increasing Access, improving Rural health systems, and Empowering patients to ensure individuals and families can make all medical decisions instead of insurance companies or the government.”
Hill who represents Tennessee House District 3, which includes Johnson, and part of Carter and Sullivan Counties, stated that House Bill 1280 is “a major step that allows Governor Lee and his administration to negotiate with the federal government for these block grants so we can create a healthcare system that focuses on the patient.”
“This funding will create competition, and enhance overall transparency while lowering costs, and improving the quality of care for Tennesseans,” he said. “Our goal is to use existing resources to serve more people who need TennCare.”
Many, including Executive Director of the Tennessee Justice Center, Michele Johnson, who feels the House passed a bill to turn Medicaid into a block grant are convinced that House Bill 1280 will actually do more harm than its intended improvements.
“The effect will be to cut federal Medicaid funds,” Johnson said. “The heaviest cuts will fall on those who can least bear them – children with special health care needs, seniors in nursing homes and people with pre-existing conditions. A block grant will hurt patients, the healthcare infrastructure of our state, and our economy. Our elected officials need to solve the real-life problems that families face instead of playing politics with Tennesseans’ healthcare.”
Patrick Willard, with Families USA agreed when he said, “This proposal could end up cutting the safety net for some of the most vulnerable families, children and seniors in Tennessee. By putting a cap on Federal funds for TennCare, state officials will be choosing who can get health care, and who can’t.”
Andy Schneider, with Georgetown University Center for Children and Families added, “Every state has a Medicaid program. No state has a Medicaid block grant. There is a reason. Without the guarantee of a federal share, states would not have the resources to meet the needs of their most vulnerable populations. They would have to pit one group against another: ‘devil take the hindmost.’”
In response, Hill stated, “HB 1280 requires the governor to request for block grants for funding. If approved, the next step would be negotiations. In those negotiations, the issue of sustainability, service, and population, among many others, would be addressed. It’s not the intent to cut services or cut Medicaid funds, but serve more people by making TennCare more efficient.”
Anna Walton, Health Policy Associate with the Tennessee Justice Center, (TJC) noted the seeming confusion about what a block grant would do, including within the legislature, and that the main arguments she has heard have to do with state flexibility.
She then said, “TJC’s stance is that Medicaid is already an inherently flexible program with ample opportunity for innovation. A block grant would undermine consumer protections and guardrails that make sure beneficiaries get the proper care.”
House Bill 1280 now awaits action from the Senate, and its future effects for Tennessee’s most vulnerable remains to be seen.
Representative Timothy Hill is Chairman of the House Commerce Committee. Hill can be reached by email at Rep.Timothy.Hill@capitol.tn.gov or by calling (615) 741-2050.