tennessee democrats

Tennessee Dems send Medicaid block grant objections to Biden

House members attend a floor session in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State House and Senate Democrats are asking President Joe Biden to halt a Medicaid block grant for Tennessee.

Former President Donald Trump’s administration approved the block grant shortly before he left office. Republican state lawmakers rushed to OK the waiver before Trump left office last week.

Here is the full letter:

Dear President Biden,

We, the House and Senate Democrats of the Tennessee State Legislature, are writing you to request that you rescind the Medicaid block grant waiver that the Trump Administration granted, and our Republican colleagues in the General Assembly hastily voted to approve.

This waiver gives Tennessee more control over spending Medicaid dollars, in exchange for a cap on those funds. There’s a number of significant problems with this approach.

First and foremost, the state has proven themselves unable to handle the responsibility of being given more control over federal dollars. In addition to refusing to expand Medicaid for nearly a decade, our state government allowed a $732 million surplus of TANF funds to accumulate, rather than spend that money on what it was intended for – helping families in need.

The waiver allows for reducing the population of the 1.4 million Tennesseans eligible for Medicaid if there are problems re-registering beneficiaries. It also hands near-total oversight of the funds over to TennCare (Tennessee’s Medicaid program), which has a history of disfunction and unnecessary barriers to enrollment.

Since the outgoing administration first introduced the block grant proposal in 2017, Tennessee has been the only state to take up the offer. Even the most conservative legislatures across the country knew this was a bad deal. The New York Times referred to Tennessee’s undertaking of the block grant as a “structural experiment,” and the test subjects are working Tennesseans, families, and seniors.

The state GOP, which pushed the approval of the block grant through at the Eleventh Hour prior to Inauguration Day, refused to work with Democrats to ensure the proposal would be fair, legal, and appreciated by all Tennesseans. If they did, we would have pointed out the issues we saw with the deal, including the fact that it might not even be legally sound. Had they consulted with us, we could have come to a solution that better served people of Tennessee.

We know that they don’t want this program for the purpose of serving Tennesseans: they want this program for future political campaign purposes. Millions of Tennesseans will remain uninsured, this program will end up costing our taxpayers hefty legal fees, and the end result will likely be that a court will overturn it – unless your incoming administration can stop this waiver before it starts.

Thank you for your consideration.