TennCare was Tennessee’s attempt to ensure state residents would not be denied health care. As a bridge to span the gap between income and medical expenses, TennCare did eliminate the fear over how to pay for medical tests, medications, nursing care, and surgeries for many people. TennCare has been drastically curtailed, though, to help fewer and fewer people.
Since Phil Bredesen was elected as governor in 2003, he has removed at least 300,000 people from the TennCare program, and it is now more difficult to qualify for TennCare. Even so, TennCare is projected to consume approximately 24 percent of the state’s finances under Bredesen’s budget proposals.
Cuts to TennCare have become so severe that when Bredesen proposed additional reductions to cut the TennCare budget, even hospitals suggested taxing themselves as an alternative. These cuts come at a time when more Tennessee residents need help with medical care as they face escalating job losses.
Residents Lose Jobs and Health Insurance in Tennessee
The Governor rejected a plan to close state government offices once every other week as an alternative to laying off more than 1,000 employees. That furlough option would have closed government operations for 24 Fridays over the course of a year, and would have been equivalent to a 10-percent pay cut for state employees.
State employees aren’t alone in facing layoffs. Initial unemployment claims for Tennessee skyrocketed from 3,097 (in the first quarter of 2008) to 9,837 (reported in May of 2009), according to U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
When a minimum of 50 initial unemployment claims are filed against an establishment during five consecutive weeks, and at least 50 workers have been laid off for over 30 days, it’s called an extended mass layoff. In Tennessee, 63 extended mass layoffs affected 9,751 people in the fourth quarter of 2008. The percentage of women affected rose to was 40 percent in the first quarter of 2009, up from 36.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008.
Alarming Health Insurance Premium Increases
The Obama administration reported that health insurance premium increases of up to 39 percent are a disturbing sign of our time. The Health and Human Services Department reported that those high numbers are in line with increases sought by insurers in several states in spite of robust profit growth for the companies, and a lack of competition in most states.
For example, Michigan’s Blue Cross Blue Shield plan requested approval for premium increases of 56 percent in 2009, and Washington State rates for some individual health plans increased by up to 40 percent.
These increases hit customers buying their own plans. Family premiums for those with workplace coverage rose a mere five percent last year, and that was nowhere near the rate increases seen among plans marketed to individuals.
Congressional health care legislation mainly addresses the insurance problems of individuals and small businesses. While requiring everyone to carry coverage (like mandatory auto insurance), it would provide subsidies to make premiums more affordable. Better yet, it would create a new kind of insurance supermarket for individuals and small businesses to have a chance for competitive plans comparable to what federal employees enjoy.
Health Insurance for Tennessee Has Less Expensive Options
To deal with catastrophic medical costs, many healthy people are dropping coverage completely, or switching to bare-bones policies so they can afford monthly premiums. These “catastrophic” plans are called high-deductible health insurance plans, and they typically offer protection against major medical expenses incurred from severe illness or injury. People are switching to this type of plan because they typically offer less expensive monthly premiums. These high-deductible health insurance plans can include a maximum limit on your out-of-pocket medical expenses, including the deductible.
High-Deductible Health Insurance may even provide preventive care without a deductible, or with a deductible below the minimum annual deductible. Preventive care benefits can include annual exams, immunizations, prenatal and well child care, stop-smoking programs, and weight-loss programs.