News

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.”

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »

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.

read more »