BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Expanding TennCare, or any form of Medicaid, is not the answer right now, despite pleas to do just that from area hospitals, according to U.S. Rep. Phil Roe.
Roe, R-1st, a former Johnson City physician, said during a Thursday conference call with area media representatives that he supported the budget presented by U.S. House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, commonly referred to as the "Ryan Budget."
The budget failed in the Senate after only narrowly winning approval in the House.
Not only did the proposal balance the nation's budget in 10 years, it also called for significant reform of the tax code and would have overturned the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, Roe said.
Moreover, the Ryan budget proposal did not support any expansion of the Medicaid program.
"Medicaid is a bad system for our poor people in this country," Roe said.
He cited a study of 500,000 Medicaid patients that found such patients had higher mortality rates and poorer patient outcomes than those without insurance.
The real need, he said, is for reform instead of expansion.
In a joint news release on Thursday, Takoma Regional Hospital and Laughlin Memorial Hospital leaders urged Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly to expand TennCare to help counter a potential $69 million reduction in Medicare reimbursements in the next 10 years.
Federal laws already in place, including the ACA, will result in Medicare reductions of nearly $47 million for the two hospitals in the next decade, according to the joint news release.
The federal government is also considering an additional $22 million reduction in payment for services performed at Takoma Regional and Laughlin Memorial.
Chuck Whitfield and Daniel Wolcott, who serve as the presidents of Laughlin Memorial and Takoma Regional, respectively, said in the release that such large-scale reductions from Washington would have a major impact on the operations of their hospitals, including the loss of hundreds of jobs and a financial impact of $88.4 million.
"I think the hospital providers are in a tough spot," Roe later added. "The reason they're in a tough spot is because of a lot of reasons. One is, they're the provider of last choice. They can't turn anybody away."
"I understand why the hospitals want [Medicaid expansion]," he said. "They gave up some Medicare revenue hopefully thinking they were going to get customers on the other side."
He noted that TennCare has seen a problem with not finding providers who will accept the insurance, which meant the government was shifting patients from their working, private insurance to a "poorly performing system" of public insurance.
"I still think you need to reform Medicaid before you expand Medicaid," Roe said.
The ACA will take more than reform, however, Roe indicated,. He supports a complete overturn of the law.
Where it once promised to decrease the cost of health care, increase access to health care and increase the quality of health care, the legislation has done exactly the opposite, he said.
The ACA is an "amazingly complicated bill," Roe stated.
The more people learn, the more problems people find, he said, saying that employers do not have to provide an essential benefits package to employee families under the law, but those same family members do not qualify for a subsidy from the federal insurance exchange.
"They're going to be left high and dry," he said. "People who have perfectly good coverage now may end up losing it because of the way this bill is written."
According to Roe, recent estimates have calculated as many as 12 million people will lose coverage as a result of the ACA, while other estimates have said it will be providing coverage for 12 to 15 million who do not already have health insurance.