News

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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Judge Sell Working on Mental Health Court

Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Christie Mahn Sell announced Friday that she is working on establishing a mental health court to help break the cycle of arrest and release for those with mental health issues. Speaking to a local political group, Sell explained that many of these individuals repeatedly face charges such as public intoxication and criminal trespassing, and that a special court could link them to resources to help break that cycle. Chattanoogan.com has the story.

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President Steen Lays Out Plans for Coming Year

Newly sworn in TBA President Jonathan Steen outlined initiatives for the upcoming TBA membership year during his Lawyers Luncheon speech at the TBA Annual Convention in Gatlinburg (June 13). The Jackson attorney plans to carry on the association's work in responding to unjust criticism of our judges and provide educational materials on how to be informed voters. In addition, he wants the association to build on the mentoring and Solo-in-a-Box programs to help lawyers to succeed in the practice of law and deliver first-rate services to their clients. Steen also outlined plans for expanding civics education in schools and developing medical/legal partnerships across the state. Watch his presentation to learn more.

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Formation of Veterans Court Urged

A group of advocates that comprise the Middle Tennessee Veterans Mental Health Council is working to establish a Rutherford County Veterans Court, the Daily News Journal reports. The group states that many of the veterans who face misdemeanor and felony charges could use a court that tailors justice to the support and treatment they need to cope with lingering memories of war. Council Chairman Michael Cowger said many veterans return from war with post-traumatic stress syndrome, and this condition can lead to domestic violence, divorce, drug addiction, alcoholism, homelessness and suicide.

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Miller & Martin Adds 3 to Nashville Office

Miller & Martin has added three members to its Nashville office. They are Catie Lane Bailey, Douglas Berry and David Lewis. The Nashville Post reports that the “hirings are another sign that the Chattanooga-based firm is rebuilding its Nashville presence after losing the majority of its attorneys in 2012.” Bailey will serve in the firm’s government relations practice group as senior policy advisor. She previously was director of government affairs at the Tennessee Apartment Association. Berry, formerly of Berry & Harris in Nashville, will continue to represent cities in zoning, eminent domain and utility matters. Lewis previously was vice president and associate legal counsel at LifePoint Hospitals in Brentwood. He has worked in health care for 25 years and is a former chair of the TBA Health Law Section.

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Fungal Meningitis Victims to Share $100M National Settlement

The compounding pharmacy responsible for a deadly fungal meningitis outbreak in 2012 that sickened 153 Tennesseans and killed 16 has finalized a plan to compensate families. The compounding center is putting in $50 million, its insurance company is adding $25 million and a tax refund and sale of an affiliated company make up the rest of the $100 million settlement. Nashville attorney Ben Gastel, who represents the collective plaintiffs, says families are lucky to get much at all since the Massachusetts pharmacy declared bankruptcy after the outbreak. His firm is still working on other lawsuits that target Saint Thomas Hospital, which housed the pain clinic responsible for a majority of the infections. Nashville Public Radio has the story.

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Health Care, Insurance Associate Sought in Memphis

A Memphis law firm has an immediate opening for an associate attorney with two to six years experience to work in the areas of health care law and insurance defense. A Tennessee bar license is required and a Mississippi license is preferred. The firm reports that the opening is an excellent opportunity for professional growth in a unique work environment. Submit cover letter and resume to memphistnlawfirm@gmail.com. Learn more in this job description.

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Court to Review Prayer vs. Medicine Question In Child Abuse Case

The Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal in a 12-year legal battle in Loudon County that pitted a mother’s religious freedom rights against state authorities who deemed her choice of prayer over medicine to be child abuse. Jacqueline Crank was convicted of misdemeanor child neglect after her daughter, Jessica Crank, died at the age of 15 in September 2002 from a rare form of bone cancer. Knoxnews has has the story.

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Nashville Bar Foundation Awards Nearly $25K in Grants

The Nashville Bar Foundation, the charitable arm of the Nashville Bar Association, has awarded $24,925 in grants to four area nonprofits to support their law-related educational and charitable initiatives. The recipients are: the Family Center was given $2,000 to develop a new child abuse prevention program that will help lawyers more effectively respond to abuse cases; the Legal Aid Society was given $10,000 to expand legal assistance for immigrant and refugee communities; Mental Health America of Middle Tennessee was given $1,500 to educate the legal profession on how to deal with clients who have personality disorders, high anxiety or mental illness; and Nashville Community Education was given $1,425 to expand The People’s Law School, a program that offers a series of free legal classes to the public about important legal issues.

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Democrats Hit Haslam for Medicaid Delay

State Democrats marked the one-year anniversary of Gov. Bill Haslam’s promise to seek a “Tennessee Plan” to expand Medicaid with a press conference yesterday in which they urged him to take action. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius visited Nashville Thursday, in part to push for Medicaid expansion in the state. Earlier, however, the state legislature gave final approval to HB 937, a measure that requires the governor to get the General Assembly’s permission before expanding TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program. The Tennessean has the story.

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Seminar to Explore Details of Health Care Law

A panel of experts will explore the details of the Affordable Care Act during the Health Care Reform Seminar April 3 at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Dale Condor, attorney at Rainey, Kizer, Reviere & Bell PLC, will join fellow panelists Tim Finnell, founder and president of Group Benefits LLC, and Mitch Graves, president and CEO at Health Choice LLC. Dr. Scott Morris, founder and CEO of the Church Health Center, will deliver the keynote address. Seating is limited. Register or learn more.

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Supreme Court Appears Divided on Religious Rights of Companies

Seemingly divided, the U.S. Supreme Court struggled yesterday with the question of whether for-profit companies have religious rights, a case challenging President Barack Obama's health overhaul and its guarantee of birth control in employees' preventive care plans. The Hobby Lobby chain of stores and others challenging the provision provide health insurance to their employees, but object to covering certain methods of birth control that they say can work after conception, in violation of their religious beliefs. The justices peppered attorneys with questions during a 90-minute argument. The outcome could turn on the views of Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the decisive vote, as his colleagues appeared otherwise to divide along liberal and conservative lines. A decision is expected by late June. The Chattanoga Times Free Press has more.

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Memphis Law Hosts Symposium on Tuskegee Study

The University of Memphis Health Law Institute will host its inaugural Health Law Symposium April 3-4. The theme of the two-day event is Race, Research, and Rights: The Legacy of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. The program will feature two special guests: civil rights attorney Fred Gray, who brought a class action suit on behalf of syphilis study survivors, and James Jones, author of Bad Blood, an account of the study. The event will kick off with the screening of a documentary and an informal discussion with Gray and Jones on Thursday night. On Friday, sessions will cover how the study continues to impact ethnic and racial minorities in research and treatment settings.

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High Court to Hear Religious Challenge to Health Care Law

The Affordable Care Act will be considered in the Supreme Court next week in a case full of hot-button issues: religious freedom, corporate rights, federal regulation, abortion and contraception. On one side is the Obama administration, insistent that health policies written under the act include full coverage for all methods of birth control. On the other side are two family-owned corporations — the Hobby Lobby chain of arts-and-crafts stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a Mennonite-owned cabinet maker. They cite religious objections to intrauterine devices (IUDs) and "morning-after" pills, which they say can cause abortions. WBIR has the story from USA Today.

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Legislators Want Review of Any Medicaid Expansion

The state Senate today approved and sent to Gov. Bill Haslam a bill requiring him to win legislative approval before obligating the state to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. House Bill 937, sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, is a watered-down compromise version of legislation that, as originally written, would have blocked Tennessee from participating in any Medicaid expansion that’s optional for states under the ACA. The Commercial Appeals has more.

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