Plan focuses on affordability, portability for working Tennesseans
As the next step in the future of health care in the Volunteer State, Governor Phil Bredesen today unveiled a new strategy he called Cover Tennessee to provide affordable and portable health insurance to more than 600,000 uninsured Tennesseans.
In a 30-minute speech to a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly, Bredesen outlined the initiative based on two simple principles: Affordability and portability. At an average monthly cost of about $50 for an individual, and with no high front-end deductibles, the plan is affordable. Meanwhile, it can follow working Tennesseans no matter where they work, making it portable.
“When it comes to accessing health care in Tennessee and across our country, lack of affordability keeps too many people on the outside looking in,” the Governor said. “Cover Tennessee represents a logical approach for making affordable health insurance available to as many Tennesseans as possible. The key is focusing on the fundamentals, not the extras that drive up the cost of health care.”
With respect to portability — the concept that an individual, not a government or employer owns the insurance — Bredesen said Cover Tennessee will be unique among health insurance programs. “We live in the land that values the individual above the government or any corporation, and we need to reflect that core American value in our approach to health care,” the Governor said.
Cover Tennessee, which is a voluntary program, has three main components:
• CoverTN — This groundbreaking initiative, the heart of Cover Tennessee, is a partnership between the State and small businesses to help working Tennesseans buy affordable health insurance. The average cost for an individual is expected to be about $50 a month. The State and employer each will kick in about $50 a month as well, for a total monthly cost of $150. In cases where an employer doesn’t participate, the individual will have the option of paying the employer’s share.
Unlike other health insurance plans, CoverTN will not require high deductibles on the front end. Instead, participants will have modest co-pays — about $25 for a doctor’s visit and $10 for a generic prescription — and can carry CoverTN with them regardless of where they work. Initially, the focus will be on workers earning $24,000 a year or less and small businesses such as restaurants, retail shops and landscaping firms. It could be expanded to allow broader participation.
• CoverKids — This initiative will provide health insurance to uninsured children in homes with incomes up to $50,000 a year for a family of four. Families with higher incomes will be allowed to buy into the plan. CoverKids will put Tennessee among the top 10 states in the nation in terms of the percentage of children covered by health insurance.
• AccessTN — This initiative will provide health insurance to adults who can afford to buy it but who may not be able to obtain it due to pre-existing medical conditions. The State provided a health insurance plan like this more than a decade ago, but discontinued it after launching TennCare.
Bredesen also unveiled a new public-health initiative, Project Diabetes, to combat the explosion of diabetes and obesity in our state. The prevention plan, initially to be funded at $15 million a year for the next three years, will work through local schools to help children and young adults improve their exercise and eating habits.
To that end, the National Institute of Health has agreed to include Tennessee in a new national study to research different approaches to prevention in high schools. Also, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, will launch two “diabetes malls” — one-stop centers to provide treatment, clinical counseling and educational resources to residents in urban and rural areas of the state.
Moving forward in Cover Tennessee, Bredesen said he will keep an open dialogue with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to explore options for future federal dollars. He said HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt has agreed to consider funding outside of the rigid Medicaid rules that led to pressures in TennCare.
“Once we prove our concept, we will be in a strong position to seek a partnership with Washington,” the Governor said. “If we can bring in the federal government as a partner, it would be a big win indeed.”