WASHINGTON -- APRIL 1 -- The Children's Defense Fund (CDF) urges the Bush Administration to reject a proposal from Tennessee officials that would allow the state to radically change its Medicaid program -- TennCare -- and cause significant reductions in health services for more than 550,000 poor children in Tennessee. Tennessee's proposal would set an extreme and harmful precedent for the rest of the country.
If adopted by other states, this change could immediately endanger health coverage for 6 million children across the United States and ultimately imperil the health services of as many as 25 million children who rely on Medicaid programs.
"We cannot allow a dismantling of the framework of children's health protections built over the last several decades," said CDF Founder and CEO Marian Wright Edelman. "Hurting children is not the answer. Children didn't cause the Medicaid crisis nationally or in Tennessee."
Nationally, children who rely on Medicaid health coverage represent nearly half of all Medicaid enrollees -- but only 19 percent of total program spending.
"Tennessee should not be the Trojan horse to help other states take away important health benefits from poor children in a misguided attempt to solve budget problems," Edelman said. "Why would anyone want to hurt children to save money?"
In a request to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which must approve the requested changes to the TennCare program, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen seeks to:
- Radically alter how "necessary" medical services are defined so that Tennessee can override federal law that requires states to provide broad preventive health services to all children in the TennCare program.
- Gain permission for Tennessee to unilaterally exclude entire classes of prescription drugs from a pre-approved list of drugs and deny the prescription of certain drugs for a child unless the child proves he or she falls within a "very rare, unique and/or novel clinical scenario."
- Acquire virtually unbridled authority to cut or reduce services to children at any time in order to meet self-imposed spending limits.
Today, Tennessee ranks in the lowest third of states in the percent of children living in poverty. If CMS Director Dr. Mark B. McClellan and the Bush Administration approve the proposal, Tennessee's health system for poor children could deteriorate into one of the nation's weakest programs.
"We should be ensuring -- not denying -- health coverage that is so vitally important for all children," Edelman said. "As Dr. McClellan considers the Tennessee request, we urge him not to forget that the lives of millions of children hang in the balance. The richest nation in the history of the world cannot and must not turn its back on the poor and the voiceless. We urge Dr. McClellan not to undermine the federal laws that protect health care for poor children in Tennessee and throughout the United States."
The Children's Defense Fund's Leave No Child Behind(r) mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.