Tennessee Medicaid Changes Would Harm Cancer Patients and Survivors; Waiver Should Be Rescinded

September 9, 2021

Washington, D.C.—The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) made clear its strong objections to Tennessee’s Medicaid waiver request today in comments filed with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service (CMS).

Tennessee’s waiver request—which was approved by the Trump administration in January but reopened for federal public comments last month—would “block grant” the state’s TennCare program thereby severely limiting federal funding to the state and essentially necessitating significant cuts to coverage and eligibility. The waiver also authorizes the state to establish a closed prescription drug formulary which could limit the prescription drugs available to treat complex conditions like cancer. 

The following is a statement from Lisa Lacasse, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN):

“Radically restructuring federal funding and removing critical operational rules governing the Tennessee Medicaid program would undoubtedly harm thousands of the most marginalized Tennessee cancer patients, survivors and those at risk for the disease. Block grants, like the one being proposed in this waiver, do not account for economic downturns or major state disasters—like the state’s recent floods—which could create greater need for Medicaid coverage. Rather than federal funding automatically adjusting as needed, capped or block payments would remain the same, leaving the state and its residents financially vulnerable when they need help the most.

“For cancer patients, these changes could mean delayed or eliminated access to early detection screenings and treatment, later-stage diagnosis with more severe or limited treatment options, and lower odds of survival. 

“Additionally, allowing a closed formulary for prescription drugs would seriously disadvantage cancer patients. There is no single oncology drug that works to treat all cancers; oncology drugs often have different indications, different ways in which they work, and different side effects – all of which need to be managed to fit a patient’s individual needs. Denying people access to the most appropriate therapies would ultimately harm patients and could cost Medicaid more money in the form of increased medical visits and services due to poor health outcomes.

“Waivers like Tennessee’s do not serve to improve the Medicaid program, but rather risk leaving thousands of people without the coverage they need to prevent, detect and treat disease. We urge CMS and the Biden administration to rescind this waiver and protect patients’ critical access to care through the Medicaid program.”

Read the full submitted comments.

Media Contacts

Allison Miller
Director, Media Advocacy
Washington DC