Today marked another chapter in a long running lawsuit on behalf of all 750,000 Tennessee children who are enrolled in the TennCare program. The lawsuit, known as the John B. case, was filed in 1998 against the state and its managed care contractors. The federal court ruled several times over the years that TennCare failed to meet federal health care quality and access standards that protect children. Today the federal court in Nashville ruled that the state is in “substantial compliance” with earlier orders and that the case can now be closed. The case now goes to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals for further review.
Michele Johnson of the Tennessee Justice Center, who leads the legal team representing the children, said the ruling will be appealed. “Doctors, parents and juvenile judges across the state tell us that TennCare still shortchanges children in important ways. There is no question that the case has produced major gains in care for Tennessee’s children. But we respectfully disagree that TennCare is where it can and should be.”
During a month long trial last fall, testimony highlighted TennCare’s high infant mortality rate, lack of mental health services and what doctors described as bureaucratic barriers to good care. “TennCare for children has improved from being badly broken to just mediocre. The state argues that is good enough. We believe Tennessee’s children deserve better, and that the law requires it,” Johnson said.
Under former Governor Phil Bredesen, the state took the controversial step of hiring four Washington, DC law firms eight years ago to represent TennCare in John B. and other TennCare lawsuits. The state’s own lawyers from the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office usually represent state officials, but the private firms took the lead in this case. According to incomplete state disclosures covering only half of the period it has been on the case, the lead firm, Cooper & Kirk, has received $17.9 million for its TennCare work, including John B.
Dr. Clifford Seyler, a Tullahoma pediatrician, said that, “I am glad that Governor Haslam is making it a priority to improve Tennessee’s poor ranking in how we meet our children’s needs. In line with those priorities, it is time for the state to listen to doctors and fix the problems with TennCare, instead of spending millions on Washington lawyers trying to deny those problems.”
For more information about John B., go here.