Lt. Gov. Randy McNally spoke with TennCare Director Stephen Smith on Thursday about the announced closure of Renaissance Terrace Assisted Living in Knoxville. State offices were closed because of weather, but McNally expects to get specific numbers when offices reopen on Monday.
Tim Howell, CEO of the nonprofit Senior Citizens Home Assistance Service, said Thursday his board has voted to close Renaissance Terrace because it is losing $30,000 per month. The state has raised the funding assistance for about 45 residents to $1,305 per month after several years of a flat $1,100 per month. Even the higher number is less than the cost of care, Howell said.
Sen. Richard Briggs, in an email, said he has worked on the underfunding of TennCare’s Choices program for the past several years “without great success.” He continued: “We got a small increase this past year but I think everyone knew it would be insufficient. The home health Choices program remains a money loser and has not had an increase for about 12 years. It will be the next casualty if underfunding is not addressed.”
Briggs plans to be in Nashville on Monday (the session convenes on Tuesday). “We need a long-term fix, not just another band-aid.”
Howell said TennCare Choices is sitting on $137.5 million sent to the state through the American Rescue Plan Act, passed during the Trump Administration for relief from the Covid pandemic.
McNally confirmed that number. He said TennCare disbursed $20 million “over a year ago in Covid money” to home and community-based services, such as Renaissance Terrace. He expects the $137.5 million to be disbursed “in troughs of $50 million per year through 2024,” and said TennCare is asking the legislature to fund that amount after 2024.
McNally said the money will be prorated based on the resident count and must be spent for front-line workers. Howell wants flexibility in spending the money.
TennCare is the state’s Medicaid program. It serves 1.4 million low-income Tennesseans with an annual budget of $12.7 billion. The state legislature has refused to accept federal funds to expand TennCare.
We’ll follow up on this story as soon as we obtain numbers from Lt. Gov. McNally. Meanwhile, somebody on Facebook asked, “Who is supposed to be taking care of these people?”
The answer is we are. All of us, each of us. Stay tuned.
Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.