The Tennessean, April 1, 2019
Like so many others, Heather Hantz found out the hard way that her son's health insurance had vanished.
Hantz, 44, a Tennessee single mom whose 6-year-old son, Harrison, has autism, moved into a new house last summer, then called the state government to provide her new address. It was critical, she knew, that she update her son's file at TennCare, a massive Medicaid program that provided him with essential health care coverage.
On the phone, Hantz got devastating news: Harrison didn’t have TennCare anymore.
“I was horrified,” she said, “because I knew exactly what was going to happen next.”
Over the next month, Hantz’s fears came true. Without TennCare, she could no longer afford to send Harrison to therapy that helped with his speech, dexterity and self-esteem. Soon he began having meltdowns and sobbing fits at school, then officials recommended transferring him across town to a campus with more robust special education services. After years of progress, Harrison has regressed.
“It was catastrophic,” Hantz said. “Imagine being this little boy who can’t process what’s going on. … It was like his foundation and his routine were ripped out from under his feet.”
Harrison is one of at least 128,000 children who, over a two-year span, were purged from TennCare or CoverKids, two Tennessee government health insurance programs for low-income families. It appears tens of thousands of these children have not acquired private insurance, so they likely joined the swelling ranks of the uninsured residents of Tennessee, already one of the unhealthiest states in the nation.
State officials said the sharp cuts are a consequence of TennCare and CoverKids pruning their enrollment, after years of allowing the programs to swell. Programs dropped these children because they are no longer qualified or because their families did not respond to mandatory renewal forms that were mailed over the past three years. TennCare officials confirmed "many members" were disenrolled because they did not respond to renewal forms, but couldn't estimate how many were cut purely because of lack of paperwork.
That uncertainty, sources say, is causing havoc for poor families across the state. Some medical professionals say children have inexplicably lost coverage without their parents' knowledge, and social justice advocates allege the widespread disenrollment was largely caused by pervasive procedural errors inside TennCare.
Agency officials passionately deny that claim.
“There were humans processing these renewals. And humans do make mistakes,” said Kim Hagan, TennCare director of member services. “But is it systemic? Absolutely not.” ...
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