Health

Lee hopeful feds will respond by summer to block grant plan

By KIMBERLEE KRUESI
Posted: Jan. 10, 2020 7:00 am Updated: Jan. 10, 2020 12:56 pm

GALLATIN, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Lee says he's hopeful Tennessee will have a response by this summer from the federal government on a request to become the first state to receive funding in a lump sum for its Medicaid program.

Lee, a Republican, told reporters Friday he believed a response would arrive during the summer months because federal officials had said they wouldn't have an answer in the spring.

“They actually haven't given us a date,” Lee said.

Tennessee filed the $7.9 billion block grant proposal with federal officials in November. If federal approval is granted, state lawmakers would get to vote on the final product.

Lee says if a response came early enough this year he would be open to calling a special legislative session to get legislative approval as soon as possible.

“Certainly it would be an option to call a special session...It depends on timing,” Lee said. “If it was late fall, we would probably wait until next legislative session. But that would be an option.”

House Speaker Cameron Sexton said he hadn't discussed a special session with the governor over the block grant as of Friday, but added that he would be willing to talk Lee on the issue with other legislative leadership.

“If the governor wants a special session then he can call it himself," said Sexton, a Republican from Crossville. "We’ll just have to wait and see. Who knows when it could or not come back.”

To date, no state has been given permission to rely solely on block grants to cover Medicaid expenses. The idea has been floated by Republicans for decades but never implemented, due to possible legal challenges and concerns that doing so would result in large spending cuts to the states’ most vulnerable populations.

As proposed, the block grant would cover core medical services for the disabled and blind, children, adults and elderly — or about 1.2 million Tennesseans. This means administrative costs, prescription drugs, uncompensated hospital payments and individuals dually eligible for Medicaid and Medicare would not be part of the block grant plan, which would cover a much smaller segment of TennCare.