Lawmakers Approve Health Insurance Bill To Cover Uninsured Tennesseans

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Tennessee Health Insurance

The Tennessee Legislature on Tuesday gave final legislative approval to a bill that would create a program called Cover Tennessee to provide health insurance for working individuals who are uninsured, children and those with pre-existing medical conditions, the Tennessean reports (Pinto, Tennessean, 5/24). Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) in March introduced the program, which he said could provide health insurance coverage to about 185,000 residents over the next three years.

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The program would offer basic health insurance to working individuals who have been uninsured for at least six months. Program coverage would cost about $150 per month for an individual, with costs divided equally among employers, employees and the state. Employers with 25 or fewer workers would be able to enroll in the program if at least half of their employees could still enroll and pay two-thirds of the cost of health insurance coverage. Bredesen said premiums would be adjusted depending on an individual's age, whether they smoke and whether they are "substantially overweight." Beneficiaries would also be expected to make copayments.

Bredesen said he plans this fall to begin accepting bids from insurance companies to offer the coverage, adding that two contracts would be signed to encourage competition. The House and Senate last week approved versions of the bill, and the bill returned to the Senate to consider changes made by the House (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 5/19). The Senate on Tuesday approved the changes (Schelzig, AP/Knoxville News-Sentinel, 5/23). Cover Tennessee will cost the state about $225 million over the course of three years, a cost of $45 million more than originally estimated. State officials plan to begin signing people up for Cover Tennessee in October and hope for health insurance program coverage to begin in January 2007. The bill now moves to Bredesen, who is expected to sign the bill (Tennessean, 5/24).

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