TN likely to cut program that monitors preemies

Since taking office almost three years ago, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has mandated 5 percent annual cuts in the state's budget. And those ongoing cuts may now affect a critical program that pays hospitals to care for perinatal patients, the Nashville Tennessean reported.

Haslam may eliminate a $4.5 million annual grant that goes to the state's five Tennessee Regional Perinatal Centers, according to the Tennessean. Of that funding, half comes from the federal government, with TennCare, the state's Medicaid program, providing dollar-for-dollar matching funds. TennCare has proposed eliminating the program in order to achieve another 5 percent across-the-board cut.

One-in-eight births in the United States are premature, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Such children often require follow-up care that can cost as much as $500,000 during the first two years of their lives as they confront health issues, such as digestive problems, sleep apnea, cerebral palsy and cognitive impairment.

The Tennessee program was intended to reduce such costs and help foster the development of preemies after they're released from the hospital. One participating site in Tennessee, operated by Vanderbilt University Medical Center, expects to lose nearly $600,000 in funding. In addition to providing follow-up care to children born prematurely, it also provides equipment for rural facilities to better detect abnormalities in premature newborns.

"We certainly acknowledge the important function these centers perform, but given the other significant reductions we proposed, including increased member copayments and provider rate reductions, we feel we must include this reduction since it does not fund direct patient care," TennCare spokeswoman Kelly Gunderson told the Tennessean.

In addition to likely cutting the program for preemies, Tennessee is also declining to participate in Medicaid expansion as part of the Affordable Care Act, which would help cover as many as 400,000 low-income residents statewide. Instead of merely expanding Medicaid, Haslam wants to use federal funding to expand the TennCare program or use private payers, FierceHealthPayer previously reported. He has yet to obtain a waiver from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in order to do so, claiming the agency wants too many restrictions put in place.

To learn more:
- read the Nashville Tennessean article
- here's CDC data on premature births in the United States