Tennessee House seeks to fund Katie Beckett disabled insurance program

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Tennessee House lawmakers said on Wednesday they’re fighting to secure funding in next year’s budget so that disabled children will be able to get Medicaid assistance.

House members declared they intend to fully fund the so-called Katie Beckett program – which helps parents care for severely disabled children at home – while approving Tennessee’s $38.5 billion annual spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.

Tennessee is currently the only state in the United States that does not have a program offering coverage for children with significant disabilities living at home. Instead, Tennessee only covers “medically eligible” children in households with income 200% below the federal poverty level, disqualifying many families because they have too high of incomes or assets under the state’s Medicaid program.

“Because you included that, I personally will be voting for this (budget),” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart, from Nashville, while praising the budget writers’ decision to fund the program.

However, the House’s intention to fund the $27.3 million program hasn’t been adopted by the Senate. This could cause a showdown between the two chambers as lawmakers continue to finalize the remaining spending details inside the budget.

“The key is finding the right mix of revenue sources to ensure you can fund the waiver in a sustainable way. The Senate is still formulating its budget document,” said Adam Kleinheider, spokesman for Senate Speaker Randy McNally, adding that McNally is supportive of the Katie Beckett waiver but reiterated the issue comes down to the funding.

Furthermore, newly elected Gov. Bill Lee didn’t include funding for the Katie Beckett program when he first unveiled his budget proposal earlier this year, but House Republicans said Wednesday they expect both the Senate and the governor to support their initiatives.

“I expect the Senate to fund the Katie Beckett amendment. It’s the responsible thing to do. It’s humane and it’s the right thing to do,” said House Speaker Glen Casada to reporters after the House advanced the budget proposal.

House members say funding for the Katie Beckett program will be offset by estimated revenue from online sales taxes, where the state is expected to begin collecting that money later this year.

The program was named for an Iowa girl whose health plight led President Reagan to change Medicaid’s rules in 1981. It allows states to extend services to children even if their parents aren’t poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. It helps pay for therapy and medical equipment to maintain kids at home.

Overall, the budget proposal passed Wednesday relies heavily on Lee’s spending plan with a handful of legislative initiatives the House is seeking to fund.

Those include:

– $4.5 million on covering the revenue reduction of a fiber-optic cable sales tax exemption

– $3.1 million to fund a health care safety grant fund

– $1 million to fund capital improvement projects at four Tennessee zoos and Tennessee Aquarium

– $750,000 in financial aid for students in a new medical education joint program at Middle Tennessee State University and Meharry Medical College

– $100,000 to help fund the upcoming women’s suffrage centennial celebration

Democratic Rep. Bo Mitchell, from Nashville, was the sole lawmaker to cast a nay vote on the budget bill after legislative leaders remarked they enjoyed seeing so many lawmakers support the spending plan, sparking laughter from many of the members.

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