Potential in Congress to Close TN Health-Coverage Gap

Many low-income Tennesseans without health insurance would quality for ‘zero-dollar’ out-of-pocket health coverage under a new proposal in the Build Back Better Act.

Now in the U.S. Senate, the legislation would offer tax-credit subsidies for coverage purchased through the healthcare.gov marketplace. Experts say this would, at least temporarily, fix the coverage gap in Tennessee, since the state has consistently refused to expand Medicaid.

Kinika Young, senior director of health policy and equity for the Tennessee Justice Center, explained people who do not qualify for Medicaid currently have few options.

“Tennessee hasn’t expanded Medicaid and there are an estimated 300,000 people in our state who don’t currently have access to any sort of health insurance,” Young reported. “So, we’re excited about that provision.”

Young pointed out the subsidies would be temporary, available through 2025. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the subsidies could cost the government more than $73 billion over the next decade, which has some Senators citing budget concerns about the legislation.

Young believes the tax credits would help more Tennesseans find doctors and get preventive checkups.

“So, we’ll have a new group of people who are more focused on closing the coverage gap and making sure that, once the temporary fix goes away, the state is not allowed off the hook,” Young contended.

The legislation would also permanently restore funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which keeps children covered in households earning under $45,000 a year.

Young noted an estimated 80,000 Tennessee children were uninsured in 2019.

“As parents experience fluctuations in income, maybe because they’re a seasonal worker, that doesn’t impact the kid’s access to well-child visits and other healthcare that they need throughout the year,” Young emphasized.

Joan Alker, executive director of the Center for Children and Families, said the legislation could help reduce the number of uninsured kids nationwide.

“After we saw this troubling reverse in the progress we’d made as a country in reducing the number of uninsured kids — which came to a halt in 2017 and started going in the wrong direction — the Build Back Better bill would really turn that around and start moving the country in the right direction,” Alker asserted.

The Build Back Better Act would also increase Medicaid and CHIP coverage for people who’ve given birth, from 60 days to one year postpartum. Experts say the change could help address the nation’s maternal mortality crisis. Both programs cover about 43% of U.S. births each year.

Photo: Healthcare provisions in The Build Back Better Act would increase Medicaid and CHIP coverage for people after a pregnancy, from 60 days to one year postpartum. (Adobe Stock)

Lucky Knott

Lucky Knott

One of Southern Tennessee's most experienced and recognized news broadcasters and play-by-play sportscasters. News and Sports Director for Rooster 101.5 FM, 93.9 The Duck and Whiskey Country 105.1, and 95.9. He is currently the play-by-play voice of the Coffee County Red Raiders (31 years) on The Rooster 101.5 and can be heard M-F broadcasting our local news. Lucky has done play-by-play for 4,002 (and counting) sports events on Radio & TV. He also served four years as the Public Information Officer for the Coffee Co. Sheriff's Dept. and taught Radio/TV for six years at Grundy County High School.

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