Expanding Medicaid eligibility in Tennessee would provide 151,000 more residents with health coverage, reducing the state’s uninsured rate by 27%, a new study finds.

According to a new analysis by the Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, states throughout the South primarily would benefit by expanding the program as envisioned by the Affordable Care Act. The study specifically looked at 10 remaining states that have not expanded Medicaid eligibility, including Tennessee, and found that doing so would provide health coverage for 2.3 million more of their residents.

“The coverage gap is perhaps the cruelest loophole in our fragmented coverage system,” said Katherine Hempstead, senior policy adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation,” in a written statement. “Expanding Medicaid eligibility in the remaining states would increase health equity, and generate health, social, economic, and fiscal benefits throughout the state.”

The TennCare Connect web portal. TennCare is Tennessee's Medicaid program.

The Affordable Care Act allows states to expand Medicaid eligibility to non-elderly adults with incomes of up to 138% of the federal poverty level. As of this year, that’s an annual household income of $41,400 for a family of four.

Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina would benefit the most from Medicaid expansion by lowering their uninsured rates by 39.4%, 37%, 32%, respectively, the study found. Tennessee ranks fifth, in terms of the percentage of residents who could be covered by such an expansion.

Other findings:

  • The rate of women of reproductive age without insurance would drop by 31%, compared to older women (23.2%) and men (22.4%).
  • The percentage of non-Hispanic Black women of reproductive age without insurance would plummet by 51.3%.
  • Non-Hispanic Black adults overall would see the largest reduction in the uninsured rate of any racial or ethnic group — 43.2%.
  • Adults ages 19 to 24 (the age group with the highest uninsured rate of nearly 20%) would see a decrease in the rate of reinsurance by 32.4%.

Frank Gluck is the health care reporter for The Tennessean. He can be reached at fgluck@tennessean.com. Follow him on X at @FrankGluck.

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