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Tennessee Senate, House agree to fully fund Katie Beckett waiver

Zach Vance • Apr 30, 2019 at 7:59 PM

Following a brief impasse this weekend, the Tennessee Senate and House of Representatives have agreed to appropriate the full $27 million needed to create a supplemental insurance program — commonly called a Katie Beckett waiver — to assist families of children with medically complex needs, regardless of their income. 

The full of House of Representatives voted 96-0 Tuesday morning to approve the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin, while the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously to approve the companion bill, carried by Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield. 

“I’ve been turned down by this committee on many occasions, but I would trade them all for this bill because this is the one that really is going to make a difference for so many people in Tennessee,” Roberts said. 

On Monday, the Senate finance panel approved a budget that included full funding for the program, while the House had already included the $27 million for the program in its budget.

Senate leadership initially introduced a budget last week that included partial funding for what’s considered “Part A” of the program, citing concerns about how the House chose to fund the program using online sales tax collections.

After being pressed by families across the state who would benefit from the program, the Senate Finance Committee reversed course Monday and opted to fully fund the program. The full Senate is expected to vote on the program Wednesday.

Deputy Speaker Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, invited Jonesborough mother Michelle Gross and her daughter, Asher, on the House floor to watch the bill get approved. 

“It felt humbling to be there for such an important move in Tennessee health care history,” Gross said.

“We are the last state to adopt a Katie Beckett waiver. To hear your state representative genuinely care about my child and want to help our families is heartwarming. It was overwhelming to see the House floor turn to her as Matthew Hill recognized her. I just started crying.”  

Asher was born with a rare chromosomal translocation, as well as cleft lip and cleft palate. Michelle has limited her work as a certified nursing assistant to keep her income low enough to stay eligible for TennCare coverage. 

“A lot of times here in this chamber I know we all wonder if we’re making a difference. We wonder when we pass legislation, does it really have an impact? Are we really helping the citizens that we serve?” Hill said on the House floor.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this legislation does just that. You can leave here today knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt, that when we pass this legislation, we are making a difference and we are helping our constituents.”

Other families from Northeast Tennessee, like the Foxes, Ledfords, Hatchers and McInturffs, celebrated the passage of the waiver. 

“There are no words to describe how I am feeling about the support we have in the House and Senate. We could not have gotten this far without the support of one another. All of these families came together for a single cause: To help our medically-complex children get the care they need,” Jenn Ledford, who’s 1-year-old son Noah has CDKL5, said.

“Matthew Hill has been a big force for our cause in Nashville. He has worked tirelessly for our local families in getting this legislation passed. I can tell you we all cried tears of joy yesterday when the Senate announced they would amend to fully fund our waiver, (and) another round of tears today when the House unanimously voted for the Katie Beckett waiver.” 

Tennessee’s program would establish two coverage groups: Part A and Part B. 

Part A would model a traditional Katie Beckett program by offering full TennCare eligibility to children with the highest medical needs, regardless of parent’s income. That population is estimated to be around 10 percent, or 368, of the 3,679 estimated children the program would serve. 

Type B would be a “Medicaid diversion plan” offering a capped package of “wraparound” services, such as therapies and medical supplies, to children in an effort to keep them from obtaining full TennCare eligibility. Type B would also provide premium assistance on a sliding-fee scale.

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