More than 836,000 Tennesseans without health insurance

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The U.S. Census Bureau now estimates over 836,000 Tennesseans are now without health insurance.

Governor Bill Lee is hoping a Medicaid block grant waiver program approved under former President Donald Trump’s administration will stay in place in an effort to get people insured.

The plan is facing some legal questions as well as a new Democratic administration that’s likely to revoke or apply strict rules to the waiver.

However, with new administrations come new rules.

“We’re working hard to make sure that we can keep that block grant — we are hopeful that the Biden administration will work with us to allow us to have it,” Gov. Bill Lee said.

Lee’s administration would like to receive Medicaid funding in a lump sum, something that would be a first for a state.

“We just hope that the administration sees the value in this waiver that we have and the ability that we will have to serve more low income folks in our state with greater level of access to healthcare and more services we hope they see that and we were hoping to be able to show that to them,” Lee said.

The approval was achieved under the Trump administration, however, Biden’s administration will review the waiver.

“This is a humanitarian issue this is not and shouldn’t be a political issue we’re talking about people’s ability to live and to have access to the care they deserve,” Rep. Antonio Parkinson said.

Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat, said the proposed block grant only applies to those currently eligible under existing rules and says more can be done to insure working Tennesseans.

“It really doesn’t help any more Tennesseans that are without insurance, now expansion of Medicaid will allow for the eligibility for folks to have access to Medicaid insurance and the Affordable Care Act which will allow many, many more almost 300 thousand in some estimates — Tennesseans that are working but cannot necessarily afford insurance while they’re working,” Parkinson said.

If enrollment under the waiver increases past original calculations funding would increase.

“This block grant will allow us to provide more services and potentially provide a greater number of people that have access to those services,” Lee said.

The block grant would cover core medical services for the disabled and blind, children, adults, and elderly, or about 1.2 million Tennesseans.

Parkinson said the best way to address healthcare is to make necessary investments.

“We have over almost $2 billion in our rainy day fund in the state of Tennessee we could afford to expand Medicaid which would bring additional billions of dollars into our state to help insure those people that are struggling to have access to have great healthcare,” Parkinson said.

Lawmakers will ultimately have to vote on and approve any changes to the state’s Medicaid program.

The cost of the initial block grant proposal was $7.9 billion.

We’ve reached out to the US Department of Health and Human Services on if the administration plans to keep the waiver for Tennessee in place and have not heard back.