Tennessee Race for Medicaid: Dial Fast and Try, Try Again
NASHVILLE — Two nights a year, Tennessee holds a health care lottery of sorts, giving the medically desperate a chance to get help.
State residents who have high medical bills but would not normally qualify for Medicaid, the government health care program for the poor, can call a state phone line and request an application. But the window is tight — the line shuts down after 2,500 calls, typically within an hour — and the demand is so high that it is difficult to get through.
There are other hurdles, too. Applicants have to be elderly, blind, disabled or the “caretaker relative” of a child who qualifies for Medicaid, known here as TennCare. Their medical debt has to be high enough that if they paid it, their income would fall below a certain threshold. Not many people end up qualifying, but that does not stop thousands from trying.
“It’s like the Oklahoma land rush for an hour,” said Russell Overby, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society in Nashville. “We encourage people to use multiple phones and to dial and dial and dial.”