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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Governor Bill Lee says he is still looking at a first of its kind way to fund healthcare for a million and a half lower income Tennesseans.

In the age of COVID-19, the governor has not given up on what’s called a block grant from Washington to help pay for the state’s Medicaid program TennCare.

“We have been talking with CMS about the Medicaid block grant for a year,” said the governor this week at his annual budget hearings.

Tennessee Republican lawmakers and Governor Lee hoped to be the first state to get a block grant of federal money to run its Medicaid program but there would need to be approval from CMS–the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services.

“We’ll continue to talk to them,” added the governor. “We have not stopped those conversations and we will not stop them.”

The idea is that Tennessee could run its Medicaid program more efficiently at less expense with federal money as a yearly block grant.

Currently in Tennessee and across the country, Medicaid funding is based on a match system where states draw down federal dollars at roughly two dollars for every dollar it spends.

There might be fewer strings as well and savings could be re-invested to cover more individuals.

At the budget hearing this week for TennCare, the governor lauded the agency.

“We run one of the–as I have learned–one of the most efficient Medicaid programs in America,” said Lee.

Critics have argued that Tennessee should not be a test case for the rest of the country when it already has an efficient system to deliver and pay health care for lower income Tennesseans.

Instead, Democrats have long argued the state should expand its Medicaid program to cover more Tennesseans with billions of dollars still on the table from the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.

TennCare’s current 12-billion dollar yearly cost accounts for about 30-percent of Tennessee’s state budget.

Nearly two-thirds of that 12-billion dollars comes from the federal government.