Karen Heaton, Health Initiatives Northeast TN, and Michael Holtz, APR Media Advocacy & Federal Issues Director, talking about state and federal issues concerning health and the American Cancer Society. Tony Duncan/Johnson City Press
The American Cancer Society is advocating for approval of Gov. Bill Haslam’s yet-to-be announced Tennessee Plan for health care reform, a proposed alternative to Medicaid expansion for which no details have been released.
The Cancer Society anticipates Haslam will use the extra Medicaid dollars the state would have received to reduce the cost of private health insurance plans for an estimated 180,000 Tennesseans who will be newly eligible for Medicaid under the federal Affordable Health Care Reform Act that takes effect in January.
Making the case for improved access to health care for Tennessee’s working poor, the ACS’ Cancer Action Network is strongly encouraging Haslam and the state Legislature to provide thousands of low-income families with health care coverage they need to avoid huge medical bills, said Michael Holtz, media advocacy and federal issues director for the ACS legislative advocacy.
Holtz and Karen Heaton, health initiatives director for the ACS of Northeast Tennessee, told the Johnson City Press on Wednesday the society’s underlying concern is for adequate access to care for cancer patients who will die without it.
“While the details of Governor Haslam’s Tennessee Plan have yet to be revealed, we believe the plan should provide adequate access to health care coverage, provided cost-sharing requirements and enrollment caps do not violate the spirit of Medicaid as a safety-net program and run counter to recently issued Health and Human Services guidance,” Holtz said.
The ACS estimates 5,000 Tennesseans with cancer who would have become eligible for expanded access to care and life-saving treatment, if TennCare, which is Medicaid in Tennessee, were expanded in keeping with HHS guidelines for the process.
In announcing his decision to reject $1.4 billion in federal money to expand TennCare, Haslam told state lawmakers in March he was attempting to win approval for a plan to use that federal money to subsidize private insurance for Tennesseans without access to health insurance through their employers. The governor said the plan would also include co-pays for those who can afford to pay something.
According to Holtz, Haslam is working with HHS and a coalition of health organizations to formulate the Tennessee Plan, which will require the approval of both HHS and the Tennessee General Assembly. “We have offered our input. He hasn’t reached out to us but we have met with him and he has been open minded.”
The ACS anticipates the governor will follow the lead of Arkansas, which has also rejected Medicaid expansion dollars and already won HHS and state legislative approval for a plan to use those dollars to subsidize private health insurance plans to be made available nationwide in August through a federally endorsed Health Exchange.
“The Arkansas plan has been approved by HHS and both houses of the Legislature and is ready to roll,” Holtz said. “So there is a precedent of (federal) approval for states to work out their own plans.”
While there is no deadline for approval of the Tennessee Plan, Holtz said the Affordable Health Care Act that will require all U.S. taxpayers to carry health insurance will take effect in January and Haslam could call the Legislature into special session to consider the plan if needed.
Citing studies that show providing access to adequate and affordable health care is one of the most effective ways to prevent and detect cancer early, treat cancer effectively and bolster the quality of life for cancer patients, Holtz said Tennesseans who lack health insurance are less likely to get recommended screenings and therefore are more likely to be diagnosed with late stage cancer that is more costly to treat and they are less likely to survive.
“Our goal to reduce and eliminate cancer morbidity and mortality cannot be realized without adequate health care access,” he said. “From our perspective, the plan needs to provide coverage for adequate access to care for cancer treatment.”