General Assembly starts 2021 legislative session with passage of historic Medicaid block grant waiver amendment to improve health care in Tennessee
The 112th General Assembly has begun as state lawmakers gathered on Capitol Hill during the week of January 12th to take the oath of office, elect officers and organize the business of the 2021-2022 legislative sessions. This was highlighted by approval of a historic Tennessee Medicaid block grant waiver amendment agreement with the federal government that will improve quality and access to health care in the state. Tennessee is the first state in the nation to receive such an agreement.
In 2019, the General Assembly passed legislation calling for TennCare to negotiate with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for a TennCare block grant waiver amendment giving the state more flexibility in how it serves Tennesseans. Over the past year, the state has been in negotiations with CMS on the agreement which was finalized by federal authorities earlier this month. This week’s approval of Senate Joint Resolution 25 authorizes immediate implementation of the ten-year agreement. The current five-year TennCare waiver agreement is set to expire June 30.
Building on Tennessee’s record of prudent financial stewardship and innovation in delivering high quality, cost-effective services in its Medicaid program, the waiver agreement creates a real opportunity for Tennessee’s success to be rewarded by achieving additional federal funding through shared savings. The negotiated flexibilities will allow the state to add new TennCare recipients, structure benefit packages, better control fraud, and more effectively manage pharmacy programs. Priorities for program innovation include maternal health coverage enhancements, serving additional needy populations, clearing the wait list for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and addressing state-specific health crises. The shared savings provided under the waiver agreement will be accessed if the TennCare program maintains or improves quality of care utilizing metrics selected from CMS. If the state is unsuccessful in maintaining performance set by the metrics, its ability to access shared savings earnings will be reduced or eliminated. Under the plan, there will be no reductions in people served or benefits provided to enrollees. There will also be no reduction in provider rates or quality or access to care.
Ultimately, Tennessee sought a block grant for one basic reason – to improve the TennCare program by enhancing the benefits and services provided to TennCare members and improving the health of Tennesseans. The resolution now moves to Governor Bill Lee who will present it to CMS to seal the agreement. The new wavier will begin immediately.
In Other News…
Vaccine progress — The State Department of Health announced that they are distributing COVID-19 vaccinations as rapidly as supplies are received from the federal government. Tennessee is reported to be one of the most successful states in the U.S. at quickly administering the vaccine. Pharmacies, including Walgreens, CVS, and some independent pharmacies are partnering to vaccinate the residents and staff members of long-term care facilities. Assisted living facilities and homes for the aged also began vaccination efforts on January 13 through the federal partnership with Walgreens and CVS. The availability of vaccines varies by county. Citizens can review the Tennessee COVID-19 Vaccination Plan on the department’s website or find out what phase of the plan they’re in by visiting https://covid19.tn.gov/covid-19-vaccines/eligibility/.
Resolution commends medical personnel for tireless effort in pandemic – State senators approved Senate Joint Resolution 32 commending medical personnel in Tennessee. “We honor and commend the medical personnel of Tennessee for their tireless and heroic efforts to protect the citizens of Tennessee during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the resolution states. “These exemplary individuals are truly dedicated to the health and well-being of their fellow Tennesseans, and should be recognized for their prodigious efforts on behalf of the people of this state.”
Tennessee State Parks have huge impact in 2020 — Tennessee State Parks had an economic impact of $1.84 billion in Tennessee in 2020 and welcomed 34.7 million visits, according to a report done for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The report notes that local area spending by visitors has a substantial impact on local economies. The parks reached historic highs in camping, recording four of the top 10 months ever, and set a pace for future success with $184 million in investments in capital projects throughout the year.