Senate Commerce Committee approves “Katie Beckett Waiver Bill” to expand TennCare coverage for in-home care to children with severe disabilities

Legislation seeking to expand TennCare coverage for in-home care for children with severe disabilities, regardless of their parents’ income, overcame its first hurdle this week with unanimous approval by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.  Action on Senate Bill 476 followed powerful testimony from parents struggling to provide home care for severely disabled children with acute needs and whose incomes exceed current TennCare limits. 

In order to implement the TennCare changes, the legislation directs the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration to submit a waiver request to the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to establish a Katie Beckett Program in Tennessee.

The program is named for a young girl who was diagnosed with a brain infection in 1978 at only five months old. Medicaid covered Katie’s hospitalization for almost three years after being diagnosed. However, once her parents and doctors decided she would receive better care at home, she was no longer eligible to receive Medicaid, although her home care cost would have been one sixth of the expenses incurred in a skilled healthcare setting.  Once President Ronald Reagan heard of this situation, his administration waived the rules to let Katie and children in similar situations receive care at home, while retaining their Medicaid coverage, regardless of their parents’ income.  This gave rise to the Katie Beckett Program which created the opportunity for states to apply for a waiver, allowing them to use federal and state dollars to pay for in-home care. 

The testimony this week echoed similar situations by Tennessee parents struggling to meet family and financial obligations, while providing intensive around-the-clock care for children with severe disabilities.

Tennessee is the only state that does not have a Katie Beckett waiver or its equivalent.  The bill now travels to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee for consideration of its financial impact.

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