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A baby has a hearing test.

The percentage of uninsured children in Tennessee in 2020 remained low at 2.8 percent, according to a new study by the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The study also reports that the satisfaction rate among all TennCare recipients held steady at 94 percent, marking the 12th straight year above 90 percent.

The Impact of TennCare: A Survey of Recipients, 2020, finds a high satisfaction with the quality of health care received by children enrolled in TennCare, with 84 percent of the heads of households with TennCare children reporting excellent or good quality of health care.

The percentage of uninsured adults climbed to 9.9 percent, increasing the overall uninsured rate from 6.9 percent in 2019 to 8.3 percent in 2020. Affordability continues to be the top reason for failing to obtain health insurance in 2020, with 81 percent of respondents listing it as a major reason they cannot obtain coverage.

a graph showing the percentage of uninsured Tennesseans, by year
Percentage of uninsured Tennesseans, by year

Professor of Accounting and Information Management LeAnn Luna and Alex Norwood, a Boyd Center research associate, authored the study, which examines the health coverage status of Tennessee residents, the use of medical facilities, and satisfaction with medical services received.

This year’s report coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic. The annual survey of 5,000 Tennessee households was conducted during the third quarter of 2020 when the state unemployment rate was 8.3 percent, up from 3.4 percent during the same period in 2019.

“Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, TennCare continues to meet the needs of the families it covers,” Luna said.

The study finds that TennCare heads of households visit the doctor more frequently than all heads of households, but the percentage of TennCare recipients needing health care at least monthly dropped to 26 percent, down from 33 percent in 2019. In 2020, 13 percent of children covered by TennCare visited a doctor at least monthly, down from 20 percent in 2019.

Although many doctors’ offices were closed to nonessential care at times in 2020, 34 percent of TennCare recipients surveyed said they were able to make an appointment within a day, and 71 percent within a week. Over 90 percent of TennCare households were able to obtain all their medical needs from a TennCare provider.

“This report highlights the efforts TennCare takes to ensure individuals enrolled in the program have access to high-quality care,” said Stephen Smith, TennCare director. “While the pandemic has greatly impacted health care nationwide, TennCare and our partner providers continue to serve and meet the needs of Tennesseans throughout the state.”

COVID-19 affected the way respondents accessed health care services, with 28 percent of respondents saying they used telehealth options more frequently and almost 7 percent saying they made use of behavioral health services more frequently.

The Boyd Center, located within UT’s Haslam College of Business, has conducted the survey each year since 1993 under contract with the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration.


Erin Hatfield (865-974-6086,