Late-night calls deemed ‘outrageous’ by legislator, a timing error by sponsor

State Sen. Kerry Roberts and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) are calling for multiple investigations after robocalls from the Tennessee Justice Center criticizing Roberts’ TennCare work requirements legislation went out in the middle of the night Thursday, reports the Nashville Post.

“These robocalls are outrageous and the information disseminated is false and misleading,” said Roberts (R-Springfield). “They were conducted in the middle of night with the call back number, for those who thought that it might be a dire emergency due to the late hour, going to my legislative office which is completely deceptive.”

However, the TJC — a nonprofit that assists state families with TennCare, Medicaid and Medicare eligibility and appeals — insists the error was not malicious.

“We were surprised to learn from several people this morning that they received a phone call regarding the work requirement bill in the middle of the night last night,” said TJC head Michel Johnson. “The calls were scheduled to be made yesterday afternoon and should have been completed by 5 p.m. We were working with a new vendor and immediately contacted the company, which is investigating the incident. The company suspects that a bug in the system resulted in the calls going out overnight.”

Johnson said the vendor was fired on Friday. Still, Roberts and McNally said they have asked law enforcement authorities, the Tennessee Public Utility Commission, the consumer division of the Tennessee Department Commerce and Insurance, and the Attorney General’s consumer division to investigate the matter.

“These phone calls by the Tennessee Justice Center are beyond the pale,” added McNally. “They are harassing and ultimately unproductive. It is intimidation, pure and simple. … This is not how public advocacy is done.”

The robocalls were designed to encourage people to reach out to Roberts and express concerns over legislation pushed by House Speaker Beth Harwell that would require all TennCare recipients, except primary custodians of children under 6, to work in order to maintain their coverage, if the federal Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) approved a waiver.

…Although Roberts has repeatedly said there would be other exceptions from the work requirements, the wording of the legislation itself has no exceptions other than for the parents of young children. A statement from McNally’s office Friday said, “The bill must meet CMS guidelines, which means that it would not apply to individuals with disabilities, elderly beneficiaries, children and pregnant women, as well as those who are caregivers or are undergoing job training or education, among other categories.” But according to Johnson, CMS has no such guidelines.

“This unfortunate incident does not diminish the purpose of the call, which is to raise awareness of the very damaging bill,” Johnson said. “The bill as written would create more government red tape and result in mothers and grandmothers losing their health coverage.

Note: Previous post on McNally stopping a floor vote on the House-passed bill is HERE. For other reports on the robo-calls, see The Tennessean and WTVF TV.

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