Alexander, Corker refrain from embracing Senate plan for Obamacare repeal and replacement

Tennessee U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker both stopped well short of embracing the Senate plan for repealing and replacing Obamacare – they label it a “discussion draft” – in official statements.

Alexander, who was involved early in drafting the plan, does list “benefits for Tennesseans” in the proposal, but says he’s going to continue reviewing the matter, see how cost estimates develop and watch for amendments. His statement is HERE.

Corker just says he will be reviewing the proposal, seeking input from a “wide range of stakeholders” and “make a final decision based on whether this legislation, on the whole, is better than what is in place today.” His statement is HERE.

The Times Free Press has a report on the Tennessee senators’ commentary coupled with some of the criticism the plan is getting. One of Alexander’s emphasized points is that “it increases funding for Medicaid—that’s TennCare—at the rate of inflation.”

The newspaper quotes Robert Greenstein, president of the Washington-based Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, as saying that’s one of the bad things about the proposal.

The Senate GOP draft “will do more harm, to more Americans, than any other legislation in our nation’s modern history,” said Greenstein, singling out especially impacts on states’ Medicaid programs for the poor, operated in Tennessee as TennCare.

Starting in 2020, the Senate proposal would limit federal dollars states get. Currently, it’s open ended with states getting federal matching dollars to cover eligible enrollees and procedures.

The House plan is already estimated to cut Tennessee’s share of federal funds by a half billion a year with set amounts per person, according to some analysts. But Greenstein said the GOP Senate draft is even more “draconian” because after year 10 the measurement of inflation will shift to the Consumer Price Index whereas medical inflation is substantially higher.

As a result, Greenstein said, “the Senate bill over time, I’m afraid, goes in a substantial way in hitting the program so hard to be almost destroying it.”

States like Tennessee will be forced into making “massive cuts” and/or eliminating some coverage areas, he warned.

Tennessee has nearly 1.5 million people on TennCare. Unlike a number of other states, Tennessee never took advantage of a Medicaid expansion largely funded by the federal government. That is going away over time under the GOP overhaul but has no impact on Tennesseans.

See also The Tennessean, which has a review of the House and Senate proposals and how they might impact Tennessee. An excerpt:

Tennessee will be facing trade-offs under either the Senate or House bill when allocating funds and deciding benefits for people covered by TennCare, said Laura Berlind, executive director of the Sycamore Institute, a Tennessee-focused nonpartisan think tank.

The Senate bill institutes a per capita cap — or a lump sum payment per enrollee — that would be coupled with follow-up congressional action to give the state more flexibility to restructure TennCare.

The bill also includes a financing mechanism that ties Medicaid funding to an index of consumer goods instead of medical inflation starting in 2025. The federal government is essentially capping how much it is obligated to contribute.

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