TennCare’s Last Chance 

On the Scene with Janel Davis

“Is this where you turn in the brown forms?” asked Nancy, 53. At the Department of Human Services (DHS) office on Third Street last Thursday to turn in TennCare disenrollment material, she wasn’t optimistic.

“I don’t have any kids; I’m by myself; and I’m not sick. I know [the state] will cut me off, but it’s worth a try,” she said.

Nancy is just one of 200,000 TennCare enrollees who must return their completed brown forms to DHS before July 6th. Information collected on the forms will determine whether they can remain on the state’s insurance rolls. To accommodate enrollees, DHS offices around the state stayed open two hours later then usual last Wednesday and Thursday, accepting TennCare forms until 6:30 p.m.

By 4:15 p.m. Thursday, temperatures had reached the upper 90s and most enrollees entering the office were sweating profusely. Parked at the office’s curb was an ice-cream truck, but it wasn’t there to sell treats. The 32-year-old driver, who wished to remain anonymous, came to the Third Street office after his neighborhood rounds with a friend, a 22-year-old woman. Neither currently has insurance, and both have been kicked off the TennCare rolls.

“I don’t qualify for TennCare right now. They say I make too much money, but I still don’t have enough to buy the [three] sinus medicines I need,” the ice-cream man said. “I was in Walgreen’s last month just standing at the counter wondering how I was going to pay for my medication.” Fortunately, his uncle entered the store and purchased the medicine. “I was lucky that time, but what about when I need them next time?”

His friend, inside filing a disenrollment appeal, wasn’t so lucky. She visited a drug store for antidepressants last month only to learn that she was no longer covered by TennCare. Without coverage and no money for medication, she left without the drugs.

“She’s on medications like Zoloft and birth control to handle her depression, and they cost about $200 a month,” said the ice-cream man. “I don’t know how the governor can be reelected doing this.”

Inside the office, Frankie, a 63-year-old grandmother and former TennCare recipient, waited for her daughter to file her own brown forms. Frankie, a nursing-home cook, was removed from the TennCare rolls six months ago. She underwent open-heart surgery two years ago. She takes two heart medications each day and visits the doctor every two months.

“The first time [the TennCare bureau] sent me my forms, I couldn’t read and write, so I missed the deadline to send them back,” she said. “The second time they sent the forms, I got somebody to help me fill them out, but they still said I made too much money.” Since then she has scrimped and saved to make ends meet and sometimes relies on her sons to help pay for medicine. “I wish to God I could get back on [TennCare]. I would be the happiest woman in the world,” she said. 

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