More than a thousand Tennessee children have signed up for Medicaid coverage under a new TennCare program meant for middle and upper-income families. But a year into the state’s Katie Beckett waiver, there’s still no waiting list.
These are families like the MacEacherns of Nashville. Their 3-year-old, Jan-Blaise, has a mostly inoperable brain tumor, which has led to a host of chronic conditions, including permanent weakness on one side of his body and a feeding tube.
Even though his family has private insurance and his dad makes a good salary as an ER doctor, they can qualify for Medicaid.
“I think everyone deserves that, no matter what their financial status is, because taking care of a child that has great medical needs, you need that support,” says Brianna MacEachern, Jan-Blaise’s mother.
The state budgeted to cover 3,000 children. It takes a mountain of paperwork and constant emails to push through approval, so she says she can understand why busy parents who might benefit haven’t gone through the process.
“It’s a lot,” she says. “Jan-Blaise will have like six appointments in one week. Then you have your other kids and the house. I’m not even working, but it is overwhelming.”
MacEachern, who previously worked as a NICU nurse, says the coverage is well worth the headaches because their private insurance caps physical and occupational therapy each year, which they could exhaust in less than two months.
Jan-Blaise qualifies for Part A of the program, which represents children with the most complex needs who often need in-home nursing care — some of them round-the-clock. Those who qualify for Part A receive full Medicaid coverage. Right now, this includes 114 children.
But many more people — 949 as of last week — qualify for Part B, which is a Medicaid diversion program. It gives families $10,000 to put toward private insurance or uncovered services.
Families seeking either coverage can use the TennCare Connect site.
Tennessee was one of the only states not to have a Katie Beckett program, named for a young Iowa girl who fell ill in 1978. Her family had means but still couldn’t afford her care. Her case was used by President Ronald Reagan to highlight irrational federal regulation.
In Tennessee, families convinced Republican lawmakers over several years that Katie Beckett was necessary. And it was approved with bipartisan support and signed into law in 2019 by Gov. Bill Lee.