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The real problem with TennCare is political will

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam
Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images

At long last, Tennesseans are beginning to learn just why the TennCare program that supposedly protects lower income people is not working properly. Cindy Mann, the Federal Director of Medicaid, has finally called the state government out and is getting some answers.

One of the key problems appears to be with the contractor who got the bid to develop TennCare’s new ACA-compliant computer system – Northrup Grumman. The use of this Defense Department contractor has always surprised me. Northrup Grumman indeed has a Health IT unit, but its core businesses are aerospace and defense technology. It seems odd that the State of Tennessee should choose a contractor whose main expertise is not health data management. Other states, like our neighbors in Kentucky, have successfully met the Federal Medicaid guidelines. Shouldn’t we have considered the company’s knowledge of and success in meeting Medicaid guidelines when we took the bid?

I am delighted to learn Northrop Grumman has only been paid five million dollars of the thirty-five million total contract and heartened that TennCare Director Darin Gordon says his team has ‘grown skeptical’ of the defense giant’s ability to perform the project. Apparently the state’s solution is to hire ANOTHER contractor to audit Northrop-Grumman’s work and project when the original contract can be completed. Shouldn’t TennCare be more aggressive, especially since they now have no reliable system to confirm eligibility?

What is lacking here appears to be POLITICAL WILL. State officials have denounced and defied the very idea of the Affordable Health Care Act from the beginning. Many of our legislators ran fulminating campaigns against it. Yet, when push came to shove, TennCare simply stopped providing enrollment information and directed everyone to healthcare.gov. People who had been carefully taught to hate this system suddenly had nothing else to rely on.

Significantly, Mann’s letter to TennCare Director Darin Gordon cited a ‘pattern of delays’. She also stated the Department had ‘repeatedly expressed reluctance to come up with solutions to help applicants.’

Ladies and gentlemen, the current Tennessee government does not want to help us.