Governor hopefuls largely OK with TennCare work requirements


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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s candidates for governor said Tuesday that they are largely supportive of proposed TennCare work requirements, but some of them expressed concerns about possible costs and bureaucracy.

At a health care forum, Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell touted her legislation that seeks a federal waiver to require able-bodied TennCare patients without children under 6 to work, volunteer or attend school. The push stems from an offer from the Trump administration to let states craft programs imposing work requirements on certain Medicaid recipients.

“We need to provide for those low-income people a safety net while they go through some difficult time,” the Nashville Republican said. “But it does not need to turn into a lifetime entitlement program.”

According to a fiscal analysis, however, Harwell’s bill would impact 86,400 people and cost $18.7 million annually in state money and $15.3 million in federal money. Parents and caretakers of children 6 years or older would be affected, the analysis states.

Harwell has said she doesn’t think the cost estimate is correct.

Republican businessman Randy Boyd said he’s in favor of at least looking at work requirements. But he said it has to make economic sense for the state because it would affect a limited slice of TennCare’s base of 1.4 million recipients. TennCare primarily covers low-income pregnant women, children up to age 21 and the elderly or disabled.

“When you start looking at how many people that are there because of disability, or because they’re pregnant, or because they’re children, you start getting to a fairly small number,” the former state economic development chief from Knoxville said. “The cost of actually monitoring and maintaining that program might be more expensive than the problem itself.”

Republican businessman Bill Lee said work requirements are a good idea, but said the state needs to incentivize patients to help TennCare lower costs.

“Otherwise, nothing will ever change about the cost for that part of our health care system,” said the construction company owner from Franklin.

House Democratic Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said he thinks it’s important that able-bodied people work, but TennCare’s limited eligibility would mean the program wouldn’t affect Tennessee much.

“I think it’s a little deceiving to do that,” the Ripley lawmaker said.

Former Nashville Democratic Mayor Karl Dean said having work requirements wouldn’t be a bad thing “if it can be made to work in a sensible way and it doesn’t discourage people from seeking medical attention and it doesn’t penalize people and become too much of a bureaucracy.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Diane Black, who attended an anti-abortion event with Vice President Mike Pence instead of the forum, has said she supports the work requirements.

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