According to a survey released by the Tennessee Hospital Association, 59 percent of Tennesseans support the expansion of TennCare while 62 percent believe that the federal government will make good on its promise to cover 100 percent of the expansion cost for the first three years and 90 percent of the cost for the years to follow. Most Tennesseans understand what is at stake and want our representatives to support the expansion of TennCare to keep open hospitals that provide desperately needed care and jobs to our communities.
Health insurance coverage plays a significant role in, not only a person’s physical health, but their financial health as well. Far too many people put off doctor visits, medication and treatments because they can’t afford it, or are overcome by an expensive illness that drained their once stable finances. A person should not have to choose between bread and medicine, yet several Tennesseans are making that hard decision every day.
In this area, several people live below the federal poverty level. This includes 18.3 percent of McMinn County residents, 23.6 percent of Meigs County residents, 17.6 percent of Polk County residents, 16.9 percent of Bradley County residents, and 15.9 percent of Hamilton County residents. Of these residents, 17.2, 20.2, 18.1, 16.1, and 14.5 percent of them, respectively, are of working age (18-64 years old).
The TennCare expansion aims to serve uninsured individuals who earn less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level — about $15,856 a year. The uninsured make up 15.9 percent of the population in Bradley County and 13.5 percent of the population in Hamilton County. Of those who are uninsured, 29.8 percent in Bradley County and 25.8 percent in Hamilton County earn less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The expansion of TennCare could give these Tennesseans a greater sense of security by providing them with access to affordable health care while also providing the community with much-needed jobs.
Tennessee’s unemployment rate is 7.9 percent and people in this area are feeling the sting of a rough economy with unemployment rates of 9.2 percent in McMinn County, 10 percent in Meigs County, 8.5 percent in Polk County, 7.4 percent in Bradley County and 7.7 percent in Hamilton County. Expanding TennCare can create more health care jobs that often provide above average pay. It’s pretty simple: more insured patients means an increased demand for health care services, leading to the creation of more jobs to fulfill those demands.
As for keeping the good-paying jobs that already exist in this area, you simply need to understand three letters: D-S-H. Many hospitals rely on what is called disproportionate share hospital payments to cover the cost of caring for low-income and uninsured patients. The Affordable Care Act was designed to significantly increase the number of insured patients, and therefore, requires the reduction of these payments to hospitals. However, if Tennessee does not expand TennCare, insured patient growth will be stunted and hospitals will be stuck with the bill and without DSH payments to help cover the cost.
Hospitals in this area are no exception:
n SkyRidge Medical Center and SkyRridge Medical Center West in Bradley County employ a total of 837 people.
n Erlanger East, Erlanger Medical Center and Erlanger North employ a total of 3,533 people.
n Woods Memorial in McMinn County employs 289 people.
That is a total of 4,659 jobs at stake.
Without TennCare expansion, all of the hospitals mentioned above may be forced to cut back on services or close their doors altogether, leaving you and your neighbors with no choice but to look for health care jobs and services elsewhere.
That doesn’t have to happen. You can do something about it.
Demand that our governor, state senators and state representatives call for a special session of the General Assembly to present and pass a new budget that includes accepting federal funds allotted by the Affordable Care Act for the expansion of TennCare beginning January 2014.
— Mary Headrick
(Editor’s Note: Dr. Mary Headrick was a Democratic candidate in 2012 who opposed U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in his bid for re-election. As part of her campaign platform, she supported the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare).