Three weeks ago, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen appeared ready to pull the plug on the state’s troubled TennCare health-insurance program and put the savings into prekindergarten programs.
But a few days later, he decided to give TennCare one more chance at life.
The $7.8 billion program offers managed health-care insurance to more than a million Tennesseans who otherwise wouldn’t have insurance, including young children whose families are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. But since its inception in 1994, TennCare has been bogged down by criticism and lawsuits.
Gov. Bredesen, a Democrat, announced Nov. 10 that the state would return to a more traditional Medicaid program because the TennCare system had become too expensive and subject to litigation.
“It pains me to set this process in motion, but I won’t let TennCare bankrupt our state,” he said.
On Nov. 15, he told a Tennessee School Boards Association conference that he was worried that the rising costs of TennCare would hurt education programs.
“The reality is, people elected me to manage the state and to manage the budget, and I certainly can’t put at risk things like education and higher education,” Gov. Bredesen said at the conference. “There’s no higher priority to me than early-childhood education.”
But by the end of the week, he appeared to have had a change of heart. He acknowledged that by replacing TennCare with a more traditional Medicaid system, about 430,000 Tennesseans would lose their health insurance.
Calling TennCare “the most difficult problem I’ve ever tackled,” the governor, a former health-care-company executive, said on Nov. 18 that he would make one last attempt to resuscitate the program.
Stephen Smith, the director of government relations for the TSBA, said the school boards’ group was happy to hear the governor talk about more money for pre-K programs. The group has long supported a statewide pre-K program, but the state has not been able to find enough money for it.
The TSBA has also been working with state lawmakers for five years to try to get them to allow schools to tap TennCare funds for reimbursements for special education and other medically related expenses, as they do with Medicaid. The group has not taken a position on whether TennCare should be replaced.
A version of this article appeared in the December 01, 2004 edition of Education Week