News

Health Law Lawyers Gather at Annual Forum, Primer

Close to 400 health care lawyers from across Tennessee and the Southeast gathered at the TBA's Annual Health Law Primer and Forum this week in Cool Springs. Produced by the TBA Health Law Section's Chair Christie Burbank of Miller & Martin PLLC, the Forum is now in its 26th year. The Primer, produced by Chair-elect Jesse Neil of Community Health Systems Professional Services Corp., is in its 14th year. Photos by Jenny Jones.

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Haslam Stands by TennCare Director

Gov. Bill Haslam praised TennCare Director Darin Gordon earlier this week for saving tax dollars, despite a federal notice that the program's backlog of applications violates U.S. law and a lawsuit accusing the agency of creating barriers for people seeking coverage. "I guarantee you," Haslam told the Tennessean, "every other state in the country would love to have him as their Medicaid director." The lawsuit centers on TennCare's decision to stop providing direct assistance to people seeking coverage and require them to apply through Healthcare.gov, the website for the federal insurance exchange. 

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State to Appeal TennCare Hearing Ruling

Attorneys for the state of Tennessee filed notice on Friday that they would appeal a federal district judge’s ruling that TennCare must provide applicants with a fair hearing even if applications cannot be processed on time. Under federal law, states that participate in the Medicaid program generally are required to determine eligibility within 45 days. If the state cannot meet that deadline, applicants are still entitled to a hearing. TennCare applicants filed suit earlier this year complaining that their applications have been pending for months while the state refuses to hold hearings. WDEF News 12 reports.

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Group Granted Class Action Status in HCA Lawsuit

Plaintiffs who filed a securities fraud case against HCA Holdings Inc., the Nashville-based hospital giant, on Monday were granted class-action status in a suit stemming from the company’s $4.3 billion initial public offering in 2011, the Tennessean reports. The claim, brought by New England Teamsters & Trucking Industry Pension Fund as lead plaintiff, alleges HCA failed to disclose the company was experiencing a decline in Medicare and Medicaid revenues and had improperly accounted for previous reorganizations in a “false and misleading” initial public offering registration statement. The list of defendants includes HCA’s top executives as well as several high-profile investment banks and a private equity group.

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Steen Launches Medical-Legal Partnerships Initiative

TBA President Jonathan Steen launched plans for developing Medical-Legal Partnerships – a key 2014 TBA initiative – during an Equal Justice University (EJU) luncheon yesterday in Murfreesboro. The Partnerships will engage professionals from both fields to create more comprehensive and responsive healthcare teams. To help support their development, the TBA has formed a Medical Legal Partnership Working Group. Nearly 250 lawyers, law students and other advocates were at the annual conference for Tennessee’s Access to Justice community, which is hosted by the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS) and co-sponsored by the TBA. Along with Steen's address, the event featured the presentation of the annual Access to Justice Awards, continuing education and opportunities for networking through task force meetings and social functions. Other speakers at the 2014 EJU included retired Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Janice Holder, civil rights leader Diane Nash and former TBA President Buck Lewis, who received the inaugural award named in Justice Holder’s honor. See photos and learn more about the event.

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Legal Aid to Help with Delayed TennCare Applications

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands will provide free legal assistance to TennCare applicants whose applications have been inordinately delayed. The announcement comes on the heels of a Sept. 2 preliminary injunction ordered by U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell requiring TennCare to provide a hearing for any individual who has proof they applied more than 45 days ago — or 90 days ago for disability cases — and has not yet received a decision. The injunction came in response to Wilson v. Gordon, the first challenge of a state’s refusal to implement the Affordable Care Act.

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Medical-Legal Partnerships, Copyright and More in New TBJ

TBA President Jonathan Steen explains medical-legal partnerships in his September Tennessee Bar Journal column and his hopes for fostering more MLPs in the state. Technology versus the Copyright Act is covered by Nashville lawyer Tim Warnock, while columnists Marlene Eskind Moses and Benjamin Russ write about forced marriage.

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Judge Approves TennCare Class, Injunction

U.S. District Court Judge Todd Campbell of Nashville today granted class-action status for would-be TennCare enrollees who allege that state officials delayed processing their applications for months despite requirements of the federal health care law, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. Campbell also granted an injunction requested by the plaintiffs to force the state to follow the 45-day limit on processing applications so that people can get signed up more quickly for health coverage. A hearing on Friday, which included three hours of sometimes heated arguments set the stage for the ruling, the Tennessean reports.

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U.S. Attorney: TennCare has ‘Ultimate Responsibility’ for Medicaid Applications

The U.S. Attorney’s office is rejecting assertions by TennCare that the federal government is to blame for a bungled Medicaid application process in Tennessee that has spawned a lawsuit, stating the burden lies with the state. The filing came just before oral arguments began this afternoon in front of U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell. Lawyers for the Tennessee Justice Center and two other nonprofits are asking the judge to force TennCare to set up a work-around until a behind-schedule $35.7 million computer system becomes operational. They are also asking the judge to grant the case class-action status, which would open the case up to other plaintiffs. TennCare is asking that the case be dismissed. The Tennessean has more.

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Haslam: Medicaid Expansion Proposal Going to Feds Soon

A long-expected plan for a Medicaid expansion in Tennessee could be placed before federal officials this fall, Gov. Bill Haslam said yesterday. If the feds approve, an estimated 180,000 low-income state residents could be eligible for subsidized health insurance. It's the first significant development in months over Tennessee's ongoing struggle to expand Medicaid under President Barack Obama's 2010 health care law, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The announcement drew criticisim from Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, who issued a statement claiming Haslam has not conferred with the General Assembly regarding an expansion plan. State lawmakers earlier this year passed a bill to require the governor to obtain legislative approval before he can expand Medicaid under the health care law.

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Bass Berry Opens Pharma Practice

The Memphis office of Bass, Berry & Sims has opened a specialty pharmacy, pharma services and distribution practice. Michael R. Hess, the former chief counsel and vice president of strategic development at Accredo Health Group, will chair the endeavor. The Memphis Daily News reports that Hess will focus on pharmaceutical trade and distribution, strategic business advice, and transactional and regulatory guidance. The group also will include attorney Shannon L. Wiley.

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Federal Hearing Looms for TennCare Lawsuit

While a group of civil rights attorneys demands that TennCare officials turn over a series of documents related to delays to its enrollment process, TennCare attorneys yesterday called the motion an “11th-hour” attempt to gather information as a federal hearing looms, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports (subscription required). During an Aug. 29 emergency hearing in Nashville, U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell will determine whether the lawsuit against the Medicaid agency will take on class-action status, and whether the 11 plaintiffs, and potentially hundreds of other Tennesseans, will get access to coverage while the lawsuit is argued — a process that could take months, the newspaper states.

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Domestic Partnership Ordinance Loses in Public Vote

Chattanooga voters yesterday defeated the Domestic Partnership Ordinance. The measure, which would have provided health benefits to the same-sex partners of city employees, was approved by the Chattanooga City Council last year but was forced to a public vote. “The City of Chattanooga’s non-discrimination ordinance was repealed tonight, but I want every city employee to know one thing — your work is valued and you are important to the future of our community,” Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said following the vote. News Channel 9 has the story.

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Advocates Outline Advantages of Mental Health Court in Chattanooga

Advocates held the first in an expected series of public forums about starting a mental health court in Chattanooga Monday, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. G.A. Bennett, director of support services with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, told the gathering that a mental health court would save Hamilton County money, reduce rates of recidivism and show caring accountability toward people with mental illness. Nashville's mental health court reports a reduced recidivism rate, a cost saving of a $250,000 and 83 percent reduction in the number of jail days for people with mental health issues.

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Forum to Look at Mental Health Courts

The public is invited to attend a forum on Criminal Justice and Mental Health “A Mental Health Court for Hamilton County,” next Monday from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center in Chattanooga. “A mental health court in Hamilton County will significantly reduce costs and improve public safety by connecting mentally ill defendants with community resources,” Judge Christie Sell said. “The goal is to reduce the likelihood of continued crime by stabilizing these individuals, who cost more than 7 times more to jail and who are subject to worsening mental conditions when incarcerated.” The Chattanoogan has more.

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Court Rulings Split on Health Exchange Subsidies

Two U.S. federal courts came to opposite conclusions today on the legality of health insurance subsidies provided to federally-run exchange plans, the Nashville Post reports. The federal government argued that the ACA established "complete equivalence between state and federal exchanges," while the opposition argued the language clearly denied tax credits to consumers in states with federally-run marketplaces. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled with the opposition, while the Fourth Circuit took the opposite view.

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Nonprofit Legal Firms Keep Tabs on TennCare

TennCare faces the prospect of lawsuits if it fails to set up a state system for people to apply for Medicaid, the Tennessean reports. Tennessee ended face-to-face assistance for people seeking Medicaid coverage on Jan. 1, when the Affordable Care Act came into full effect, and, instead, began telling people to apply online at healthcare.gov. People who should have qualified for coverage have fallen through the cracks or not been able to apply at all, according to the health advocacy and civil rights organizations. Attorneys with the Tennessee Justice Center, Southern Poverty Law Center and National Health Law Program are closely watching to see how the agency responds to a federal demand for a correction plan.

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Tenncare Submits Plan to Correct Deficiencies

The Haslam administration responded Monday to criticisms of the state’s implementation of rules intended to facilitate enrollment of low-income individuals in the federal health care program. In a letter to regulators, TennCare Director Darin Gordon took issue with a number of the government’s assertions. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) notified the state last week that it was not in compliance with six of seven "critical success factors" aimed at streamlining the eligibility and enrollment processes for Medicaid. As requested, Gordon submitted an updated plan but sought permission to work with federal officials in resolving several issues. The Times Free Press has details.

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Judge Allows Meningitis Case to Proceed

U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel dismissed a request by Saint Thomas Hospital for summary judgment in a court case focused on the hospital’s role in the deadly meningitis outbreak in 2012. If approved, the request would have ended the case without a trial. Zobel’s decision now means that plaintiffs’ lawyers can investigate defendants’ documents and ask the defendants questions under oath. The Tennessean has more.

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Democrats Unveil Bill to Reverse Hobby Lobby Decision

National Democrats have introduced legislation to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision by exempting federally mandated health benefits, such as contraception coverage, from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Nashville Business Journal reports. The Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act would prohibit for-profit companies from using religious beliefs to deny employees' coverage for contraceptives or any other essential health benefit required under the Affordable Care Act.

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Feds Give Tennessee 10 Days to Address ACA Failures

The federal director of Medicaid programs is giving Tennessee 10 days to submit a correction plan after failing to provide services for people as required by the Affordable Care Act. The Tennessean reports that the crux of the problem concerns delays with bringing a $35 million computer system online. Tennessee is also criticized for not providing people with face-to-face help in applying and for not setting up a program that allows hospitals to temporarily enroll people in Medicaid if they are presumed eligible.

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Prescription Drug Summit Thursday in Chattanooga

Top state substance abuse officials will meet in Chattanooga this Thursday to discuss the problem of prescription drug abuse in Tennessee, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. E. Douglas Varney, commissioner of the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, will join Criminal Court Judge Caroll Ross of the 10th Judicial District Recovery Court, Paul Fuchcar of the Council for Alcohol & Drug Abuse Services and others at the event, set for 2 p.m. at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga’s University Center, 642 E. Fifth St. In announcing the summit, which is open to the public, Varney said, “The abuse of prescription drugs, specifically opioids, is an epidemic in Tennessee, with disastrous and severe consequences to Tennesseans of every age.”

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UT Health Science Center to Operate Forensic Center

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center has been awarded a one-year $3.1 million contract to operate the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center and the Shelby County Medical Examiner’s Office, Memphis Daily News reports. Under the contract, the university will oversee medico-legal death investigation services for 20 counties that send autopsies to the facility. It also will provide staffing and management of the forensic center, including supplying forensic pathologists and technicians, support staff and a physician eligible for appointment as the Shelby County medical examiner. Read more about the history of the forensic center and the role the university will play in this Memphis Daily News article.

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Court Issues ‘2nd Blow’ to Contraceptive Mandate

The U.S. Supreme Court issued an order Thursday allowing Wheaton College in Illinois to bypass regulations governing how religious objections to contraceptive coverage are to be made. Under the law, religiously affiliated organizations are allowed an exemption from the mandate so long as they fill out a government form for their insurers and third-party administrators. The court’s order allows the school to skip the form if it notifies the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in writing that it is a nonprofit religious group and has religious objections to providing the coverage. The school had argued that filling out the form made it complicit in the provision of the services. Dissenting justices argued that the decision departs from language in the Hobby Lobby case, causing confusion and undermining confidence in the court. The ABA Journal has links to coverage of the issue.

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Court Issues Final Orders Before Recessing

The U.S. Supreme Court issued several order today before recessing for the end of its current term. The actions today included confirming that its decision in the Hobby Lobby case applies broadly to the contraception coverage requirement in the health care law, not just the handful of methods considered in the case; and ordering two appeals courts to reconsider cases decided by the National Labor Relations Board in light of its recent decision on recess appointments to that board. The court also announced eight cases it will consider in the fall term. These include whether a local Arizona law violates the First Amendment by restricting where a church can advertise its Sunday services; whether a group of energy companies can be sued under California antitrust laws for manipulating natural gas prices; discrimination claims by a pregnant employee; and whether a whistleblower can sue a defense contractor over claims it falsely billed the government for work in Iraq. WRCB-TV has AP stories on these, while SCOTUSblog has a summary of all new grants.

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