Representative Jim Cooper (D-TN-05) submitted a letter to President-elect Joe Biden requesting the revocation of the recently-approved TennCareIII. In his concluding remarks, Cooper claimed that the agreement was unethical and accompanied by potentially criminal affairs.
“There is still information surfacing about this unprecedented waiver, including secret side agreements that are unprecedented and probably illegal,” wrote Cooper. “As we learn more, enabling us to further evaluate our state’s cruelty to its deserving poor and its vulnerable hospitals, I will be back in touch with you.”
The Tennessee Star reached out to Cooper’s spokespersons for the evidence behind his claims. His office didn’t respond by press time.
Cooper criticized TennCareIII roundly throughout his letter. He opposed the idea that Medicaid funds surpassing the state’s spending cap could be applied to non-healthcare government programs. Additionally, he claimed that the agreement would cause issues with re-registering beneficiaries and therefore cut eligible individuals from the program.
Cooper assessed that constituents disagreed with an aggregate cap, citing the majority of written responses that opposed a block grant during a public meeting on the issue.
In addition to his letter to Biden, Cooper also criticized U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma for issuing the waiver since she’d expanded Medicaid in her state, Indiana. He reiterated the claim that there was a secret agreement, although he added that he hadn’t obtained a copy of it.
“They had 18 months to approve this, and they decide to approve it in the final 12 days? That’s suspicious enough,” stated Cooper. “There’s a secret signed agreement, that so far I have not been able to get a copy of, but should be made available to everyone so that we can see what the real deal is. It’s really a way for Tennessee state officials to shortchange Medicaid recipients.”
Last week, CMS granted the waiver. It presented a novel approach to Medicaid, allowing Tennessee to adopt an aggregate cap – or, a modified block grant – to establish a self-imposed, fixed budget.
In the agreement letter issued by CMS, officials explained that the waiver didn’t constitute a block grant because of certain flexible measures that can alter Tennessee’s spending cap.
“This aggregate cap approach is not a ‘block grant’ but rather, gives the state flexibility in operating its program under a defined cap by putting expenditures at risk based on both cost and population growth and is consistent with existing CMS policy outlined in the ‘Budget Neutrality Policies for Section 115(a) Medicaid Demonstration Projects’ State Medicaid Director (SDML),” stated CMS. “The administrative flexibility afforded under this demonstration will allow the state to appropriately manage costs within a fixed budget.”
Cooper’s current contender for the 2022 race – acclaimed director Robby Starbuck – told The Star that Cooper’s real issue wasn’t with the waiver itself, but with the political blows it dealt to his platform.
“Representative Cooper’s demand letter to Joe Biden is nothing more than a letter begging Joe to throw him a lifeline,” claimed Starbuck. “His criticism has nothing to do with healthcare and everything to do with him not being able to use Medicaid as a campaign issue to pretend Republicans don’t care about healthcare.”
Starbuck explained that the aggregate cap approach grants more oversight and power to the state as opposed to the federal government.
“This deal throws out the outdated and ineffective Medicaid financing of the past that rewarded states for outright waste. Tennesseans pride themselves on the fact that our state manages its budget, unlike the disastrous budgets of New York and California; where Representative Cooper’s politics would be a more natural fit,” stated Starbuck. “If Representative Cooper is so set on having the federal government intrude on every aspect of our lives, he should look into buying a home in California or New York, I hear they have a lot of available properties from people fleeing their disastrous policies while Tennessee is booming with growth, thanks to our conservative policies that serve the people, our welcoming business environment and our common sense approach to issues.”
The Tennessee General Assembly convened for their 2021 legislative session on Tuesday. According to Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland), they are expected to vote on the aggregate cap waiver by the end of the week.
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