Sen. Akbari: COVID-19 ‘Demands Public Health Solution’ like Medicaid Expansion

MEMPHIS — As Gov. Bill Lee weighs options to ensure treatment for all Tennesseans who contract the coronavirus, Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) says the state should reconsider Medicaid expansion to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a public health problem that demands a public health solution. Our hospitals, doctors and nurses deserve to be paid for the life-saving care they’re providing and Medicaid expansion is the obvious and best answer to make sure this happens,” Akbari said. “To contain a pandemic virus and protect public health, it is critical that every Tennessean who needs treatment gets it.”

The Census Bureau estimates 675,000 Tennesseans lack health coverage and that number has likely grown as companies have shed workers. Nearly 100,000 people in the state have applied for unemployment assistance in the past two weeks.

Under Medicaid expansion, a single Tennessean who earns less than $24,000 a year and is not offered health coverage through their job would be allowed to enroll in TennCare, the state’s Medicaid health insurance program for low-income residents.

Even better, the estimated $1.4 billion program would be funded with 90 percent federal tax dollars and hospital leaders in the state committed previously to paying for the remainder.

One of society’s most effective tools for preventing the spread of disease and improving public health is individual insurance coverage. Study after study has shown that health coverage improves patient outcomes by reducing out-of-pocket expenses and increasing access to doctors.

During a crisis, uninsured people create an acute public health challenge because, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, uninsured adults are far more likely than those with insurance to postpone seeing a doctor or skipping it altogether.

In 2018, one in five uninsured adults went without needed medical care due to cost.

The consequences of uninsured Tennesseans forgoing preventive care and testing during an outbreak could be severe, particularly if it allows the disease to go undetected.

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