Mar. 18, 2020 – NewsChannel5 – By: Phil Williams
A prominent Democratic lawmaker says Gov. Bill Lee and his team are ignoring a critical tool for dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.
He warns that, because Lee isn’t talking about some sort of expansion of Medicaid services, Tennessee taxpayers could get stuck with a bill they’ve already paid.
“Essentially, we’ve already paid for Medicaid expansion, but we’re not using it,” said state Rep. John Ray Clemmons of Nashville.
“Now we’ve got to pay again for uninsured individuals for a primary care safety net. That’s essentially being double-billed.”
The state of Florida just received a waiver allowing it to expand Medicaid services in response to the national emergency.
Clemmons’ comments come as Tennessee lawmakers are rushing to wrap up essential business with the COVID-19 crisis looming.
In committee, they are practicing social distancing.
On the House floor, Rep. G.A. Hardaway of Memphis was taking no chances, donning a mask while using several disinfectants.
The rush to end session comes a week after Clemmons was widely mocked when he suggested adjournment.
“Generally, in the hallways and in conversations with my colleagues, I was pretty much vilified and [it was] called a ‘Democrat conspiracy’ and media hoax and met with those types of accusations, which was truly unfortunate,” Clemmons said.
Now, with Lee taking the lead on the state’s response, Clemmons is again warning that more is needed.
“We should use any and all tools that we have accessible to us,” the Nashville lawmaker said.
“Ignoring any of those options or not utilizing any of those options in the face of a pandemic is governmental malpractice.”
Lee has indicated that the state would provide care to the uninsured through clinics that are part of the Tennessee Health Care Safety Net.
“These types of clinics are few and far between especially in rural Tennessee — and a lot of patients may not know where it is, may not know what qualifies to be covered as a provider under the health care safety net,” Clemmons insisted.
Because the state hasn’t taken advantage of Medicaid expansion, he said tax dollars paid by Tennesseans are going to treat people in other states.
Clemmons says his other concern is that the health care safety net is run by the Department of Health, which already has a full plate handling this crisis.
Medicaid expansion of some sort would be handled by TennCare, which has lots of experience in this area.