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Beavers' bill to ban drug dealers from TennCare
Feb 17, 2005 12:00 am
New legislation sponsored by State Sen. Mae Beavers would strip state-funded medical assistance from TennCare enrollees who are convicted of selling prescription drugs obtained through the program.
The proposed bill – a version of which is being carried through the State House by Rep. Phillip Johnson (R-Pegram) – seeks to alter state law, empowering courts to permanently disqualify offenders from receiving TennCare benefits.
"In addition to any other penalties provided by law, the court shall also … order the permanent disqualification of any person enrolled in the medical assistance program, including the TennCare waiver, who is convicted of a criminal offense involving the selling of prescription drugs obtained through that program," a portion of Senate Bill 0269 reads.
Although the legislation would require a disqualified TennCare recipient to pay restitution "in the total amount of the medical assistance or underpayment which forms the basis for the conviction," payment of restitution "shall not permit" an offender to re-enroll in the program.
Noting she had heard about illegal prescription drug sales within TennCare "for years," Beavers said law enforcement officials in the 17th Senate District encouraged her to carry the legislation to the 104th Tennessee General Assembly.
"They (law enforcement officials) were furious that their tax money was … fueling the drug trade, and they thought I should file a bill that forever kicked anybody off that was caught doing that," she said.
Should the legislation pass the State House and Senate, it would take affect July 1. However, Beavers is uncertain whether the proposal would comply with federal regulations.
"I just hope that there's not some federal law that tells us we can't do it," Beavers said, noting Tennessee has one of the largest drug problems in the country. "So many times, that's the case."
Tennessee Justice Center Executive Director Gordon Bonnyman Jr., who has represented those disenrolled from TennCare under Gov. Phil Bredesen's proposal, said efforts should be focused on the management of the program rather than on controlling fraud and abuse.
"The overwhelming majority of people enrolled in TennCare are honest and don't use any drugs or services that they don't absolutely need. Those are the people who are suffering from the state's failure to manage the program," Bonnyman said. "Anything that will reduce fraud is just fine, but there needs to be accountability on the part of the state as well. Why is the state not holding the managed care vendors accountable? Why is the state not engaged in prudent purchasing in terms of drug costs?"
Beavers added the bill only addresses drug offenders who illegally sell prescription drugs obtained through TennCare, but added it could still be altered to disqualify any TennCare enrollee convicted of a drug-related offense.
"I'm sure that will enter into the discussion," Beavers said.
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at email@example.com.