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City Reporter



Fix It or Quit It

Senator's bill gives administrators TennCare ultimatum.

By Janel Davis

A health-care bill sponsored by state Senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville) gives TennCare administrators eight months to prove the program's validity and develop a plan for its future.

The TennCare Stabilization and Wind-down Bill (SB998) has passed through the Senate Commerce, Labor, and Agriculture Committee on its way to the Finance Committee to await its outcome. The bill calls for the TennCare Bureau to submit a TennCare Viability Report to the state general assembly by January 15, 2004.

According to Norris, the bill is the result of several reports to the committee by TennCare administrators and state financial officers during the past four weeks. TennCare deputy commissioner Manny Martins, state finance and administration commissioner Dave Goetz, commerce and insurance commissioner Paula Flowers, and treasury comptroller John Morgan have appeared before the committee regarding the state's health-care program. Norris called the opposition to the wind-down portion of his bill "half-hearted at best," saying, "All Martins can say is, 'It'll be a bad thing if we lose TennCare,' but TennCare may be losing itself."

Administrators reported on the program's financial needs and pending litigation. "We've been trying to get straight answers about the prospects of TennCare's survival," said Norris. "About a month ago, after the comptroller reported to us the condition of TennCare, I said, 'What we've just heard is TennCare's obituary, because what he was outlining for us were TennCare's needs that [the committee] doesn't think the state can meet. The program needs more money than [the state] can feed it."

In the state comptroller's latest audit of TennCare released last month, the audit outlined 39 findings against the program, most of them ongoing problems.

The January 2004 report must include information on cost savings in the pharmacy program, resolutions to pending legal actions, possibilities for federal funding increases, and liquidations of managed-care organizations.

Norris quickly pointed out that neither he nor the committee wished that the program "would crater" but that the program needs a contingency plan. TennCare currently serves 1.31 million Medicaid-eligible, uninsured, and uninsurable people. "I don't have my own idea for a back-up plan, but you can't just go back to Medicaid," said Norris. "Based on what we're hearing, we may have to shut the program down whether we want to or not, and that's going to have costs of its own associated with it."

The plan received a partial reprieve last week when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services lifted a stabilization cap that was negotiated last year as part of the TennCare waiver. The 18-month cap established a fixed cost for the federal government's funding portion of the program, with any costs beyond that amount paid by the state. The cap lift allowed Tennessee to receive $175 million in federal funding. Even with this allotment, Governor Bredesen made it clear in a letter to the General Assembly that the money would only provide short-term assistance. "I can't emphasize enough, however, that this does not impact our situation for the next year in the least," he said.

While Norris' bill awaits its day before the finance committee, he has also proposed a TennCare pharmacy plan, coinciding with Bredesen's own pharmacy legislation to deal with rising costs. The governor's legislation would involve a preferred drug list to be used by TennCare providers, hospitals, and enrollees. Norris' plan would require the TennCare bureau to implement a process to manage drug therapies for patients taking significant amounts of prescription medicine.

Although the governor is dedicated to finding solutions to the program's financial problems, Norris is not optimistic. "You've got the [Medicaid] cap that's lifted for the rest of this year and the prospect of some pharmaceutical rebates," he said. "The question is, what other changes can be made, if any, that will keep this program together? There are any number of variables, so the program is really at risk. I think that TennCare can survive one [more] year at best. I'm afraid that between now and June 30th may be the end."

Memphis March

Latinos want to raise awareness of crime.

By Chris Davis

A march to raise awareness of the disproportionate amount of crime in the African-American and Latino communities will take place Saturday, May 10th.

The march will begin at the McFarland Community Center and Cottonwood and end at the Memphis Police Department's East Precinct on Mendenhall.

The event, organized by Fuerza Latina Unida (United Latin Movement), is designed to raise public awareness of a study conducted by FLU in conjunction with the Advancement Project in Washington, D.C. The study suggested that communities and civic bodies enter into a partnership in order to cope with crime.

Latinos make up 3 percent of the Memphis population," said Latino activist David Lubell. "But in 2002, 11.2 percent of individual robbery victims were Latinos."

FLU's Rolando Rostro, a minister and onetime migrant worker, said that beyond the obvious language barrier a number of reasons exist for the disproportionate levels of crime within immigrant communities.

"So many of these people don't trust the police because they come from countries where the police are very corrupt," Rostro said. "Also, they don't trust the banks, so they always have money on them. They keep their money in their homes. This makes them easy targets."

Plans to combat these problems include hiring bilingual 911 operators, offering incentive pay while recruiting bilingual police officers, and creating liaisons between the police and the Latino community.

According to Pastor Ralph White of Bloomfield Baptist Church, creating an African/Latino American Credit Union may also help the two communities. Pastor White was asked to lend his resources to the march after it occurred to organizers that similar problems continue to exist in African-American communities. For instance, African Americans make up 61.4 percent of the Memphis population, but in 2002, they were victims in 79.6 percent of the reported homicides.

White explained that one way to lessen the tension that exists between these two communities as a result of economic competition is to look at the issues they have in common. "None of us can be free until all of us are free," he said.

Revamping the Riverfront

RDC picks finalists to create new image for Memphis.

By Mary Cashiola

It may or may not be called the Beale Street Landing, but the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) is one step closer to building it.

The RDC announced five finalists in the Shaping the New American Riverfront design competition Tuesday, including teams from England and Argentina. The juried competition received 171 entries from 20 countries outside the United States, including one nation we recently bombed.

Some of the entries resembled landscapes out of science fiction, while others tackled the mundane with riverboats and buildings shaped like music notes. The finalists' entries include plazas and piers that overlook the river. One design, called Recording Memphis, features a floating dock that rises and lowers with the river. Another, Memphis Belvedere, has a shade structure that designers say will act as "an urban porch." The competition, which awarded cash prizes to the five finalists to allow them to develop their designs more fully, wants to reconnect the city with the river.

"We want a signature landmark that sends a statement of what Memphis is," said architect and competition juror John Gosling. "The last thing Memphis needs is another practical thing. The city needs something that will bring people from around the world to explore it."

Urban designer Toni Griffin, with the office of planning in Washington, D.C., thinks Memphis needs an iconic image on the waterfront. "When you think of your favorite cities, you think about distinct buildings: In Paris, it's the Eiffel Tower; in London, Big Ben. ... We want it to leave something in your memory and make Memphis a distinct place."

Dance Finale

U of M may eliminate dance program.

By Bianca Phillips

The University of Memphis has the only modern dance program in West Tennessee, northeast Arkansas, and north Mississippi, but the entire program is in danger of being dropped due to state-required budget cuts facing the university.

The Tennessee Board of Regents has asked the U of M to slash $9.6 million from its budget for this fiscal year. The cuts are part of a statewide effort to trim university budgets by $57 million. As a result, the U of M has been forced to evaluate its programs and eliminate those with the fewest students enrolled, and one of those is the modern dance program in the department of theater and dance.

According to Curt Guenther, director of communications and services for the university, the final decision has not been turned into the board yet, and the university has assembled a faculty group to evaluate other options. Under the provisions of this group, no new students will be admitted to the dance program for the next two years while the department considers the role of dance within the university.

The dance program, which doesn't offer a major in dance but a concentration within the department of theater and dance, currently has 29 students enrolled with a concentration in dance, 15 students enrolled as minors, and 150 students taking the classes as electives.

"The juniors and seniors will be allowed to finish out the program, but freshman and sophomores will be asked to change their focus, and the dance concentration would be phased out over the next two to three years," said Guenther.

Several local dance companies will also be affected by the cut. Project: Motion, The Metal Velvet Dance Project, and Breeding Ground depend on the university for practice space and dancers. If the program is cut, they will be denied those benefits.

"One of my biggest concerns is the fact that it's the only program in such a large area, and they won't save much money by cutting the dance program because it's never been very expensive," said Holly Lau, who heads the dance program. "I do understand that the university is in a very tough place, and if we don't cut this, they'll cut something else. We just want to be sure that in making these decisions that they have all the information."

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