Sunday, July 11, 2010

CoverTN insurance rolls still closed

By Christina E. Sanchez • THE TENNESSEAN • July 11, 2010

WHAT HAPPENED: Tennessee's self-employed and working poor residents haven't had a state health insurance plan to fall back on since one was closed to new enrollees in November.

The residents had been able to able to buy into a limited-benefit program known as CoverTN, in which the employee, employer and state share the cost in equal parts. But when state budget shortfalls were looming in the new fiscal year, officials closed off the program to new enrollees.

CoverTN, which falls under the umbrella of CoverTennessee, launched in 2007 to help workers without access to health insurance. Individuals' share of the monthly premium ranged from about $37 to about $109, depending on age, weight and tobacco use.

The plan was also supposed to help cut down the numbers of uninsured in Tennessee, estimated at almost 1 million people.

WHAT NOW: CoverTN doesn't appear to be reopening to new enrollees any time soon.

Since the enrollment suspension took effect in November, the CoverTN budget took a 9 percent cut — as did most state departments — to fill a gap in the budget for the new fiscal year, which began July 1. The program's funding is $18.3 million for fiscal 2011, down from the $34 million available for CoverTN's first year in 2007.

"At this time, enrollment is still suspended and we don't have an expected date to reopen to new members," said Joe Burchfield, spokesman for CoverTennessee. As of June 30, CoverTN had an enrollment of 21,095, and all will be allowed to stay on as long as they qualify

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