News

AG: Lawmaker Insurance Info Not Confidential

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery has found that the cost of lawmakers’ taxpayer-subsidized health insurance coverage falls under Tennessee's open records laws, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported today. The opinion states that the amounts spent by the state are not confidential because they do not disclose any information about the treatment, diagnoses or medications for any individually identifiable lawmaker.

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Senate to Consider ‘Death with Dignity’ Bill

State lawmakers are preparing for a debate over whether terminally ill Tennesseans should be able to get a doctor's help to end their own lives, Nashville Public Radio reports. The Senate Health & Welfare Committee announced it will hold a special meeting next week on the proposed "Death With Dignity" bill. No votes are anticipated, but a variety of witnesses are expected to testify, including bill supporter John Jay Hooker. The civil rights attorney and two-time Democratic nominee for governor has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and has made passage of the legislation a personal goal.

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White House: Medicaid Expansion Would Save Lives

The latest salvo in the fight over expansion of the state Medicaid program is a report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers, claiming that 220 fewer Tennesseans would die each year if coverage was expanded. According to the council's calculations, if Medicaid expansion was implemented in full in the state, 179,000 additional Tennesseans would have insurance coverage, 10,700 more people would receive preventative care and 8,000 fewer people would be dealing with catastrophic out-of-pocket cost. The Nashville Business Journal has the story.

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Court to Hear 6 Cases This Week

The Tennessee Supreme Court has six cases set for oral argument this week. Among the issues involved are termination of a mother’s parental rights by default judgment, whether the Tennessee Department of Revenue can impose a variance on the formula used to compute taxes, whether the city of Nashville can sue the Board of Zoning Appeals over a decision to convert static billboards to digital billboards, whether retaliatory taxes violate the state constitution and whether state law eliminates the distinction between medical and ordinary negligence claims when a health care provider is sued. The sixth case is an appeal of a Board of Professional Responsibility recommendation for discipline against a Memphis lawyer.

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Supreme Court Approves Dismissal of Health Care Liability Lawsuit

The Tennessee Supreme Court has determined that, in health care liability lawsuits, the obligation to disclose the number of violations of the certificate of good faith requirement does not compel any disclosure if there are no previous violations. In Timothy Davis v. Michael Ibach, the plaintiff provided the certificate, but failed to state how many times he had been in violation of the requirement. The plaintiff had in fact never violated the law. In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins, the Supreme Court determined that the law does not require any disclosure of the number of prior violations of the certificate of good faith requirement if the disclosure would be that there were none. The Administrative Office of the Courts has more.

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Legislators Preparing for Court Ruling on Affordable Care Act Subsidies

The future of subsidies through the Affordable Care Act likely will be decided next month when the Supreme Court rules in King v. Burwell, the case arguing that the act does not give the government authority to offer subsidies in federal insurance exchanges, the Nashville Business Journal reports. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who is in Nashville today for a precision medicine summit at Vanderbilt, said GOP legislators will be prepared — should the court rule for the plaintiffs — to help keep those subsidies in place, at least in the short term.

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Obama Administration Asks Judge to Toss House Health Care Suit

Obama administration attorneys today urged a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit by House Republicans over the president's health care law, but encountered plenty of skeptical questions, WRCB reports from the Associated Press. At issue in the case is some $175 billion the administration is paying health insurance companies over a decade to reimburse them for offering lowered rates for poor people. The House argues that Congress never specifically appropriated that money, and indeed denied an administration request for it.

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Prosecutor: There is No Meaningful Death Penalty in Tennessee

The natural-causes death of death row inmate Donald Strouth is the most recent example of problems with Tennessee’s death penalty and undermines the credibility of the criminal justice system, Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said. Strouth had been on death row for more than 30 years, an appeal process length Staubus said is too long. Right now all executions in Tennessee are on hold because of a pending lawsuit where death row inmates, including Strouth, are questioning if the state's lethal injection process is constitutional. WJHL has more. On Wednesday, Nebraska lawmakers agreed to abolish the death penalty. The margin by which the bill passed in the unicameral state legislature is more than sufficient to override a promised veto by the state's governor, ABA Journal reports.

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Fungal Meningitis Victims to Share $200 Million

A $200 million settlement has been reached to pay out claims in the 2012 nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis that was first detected in Nashville and was traced to an injectable steroid made by Massachusetts-based New England Compounding Center (NECC). The outbreak sickened 778 people across the country, killing 76, according to an investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Tennessee was one of the hardest hit states with a total of 153 people sickened and 16 deaths. Dozens of civil lawsuits from across the country were consolidated into the bankruptcy filing of NECC. About 3,770 people nationwide have filed claims against the company. The Tennessean has the story.

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Firms Tell Gay Couples: Wed or Lose Benefits

Amid a push to make same-sex marriage legal, some employers are telling gay workers they must wed in order to maintain health-care coverage for their partners, the Wall Street Journal reports (subscription required). About a third of public- and private-sector employees in the U.S. have access to benefits for unmarried gay partners, according to a federal tally, but employment lawyers say the fast-changing legal outlook is spurring some employers to rethink that coverage. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality in all 50 states, some say it could result in more employers dropping same-sex partners in favor of spousal benefits.

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TJC Hosts Free CHOICES Webinar

The Tennessee Justice Center will host a free webinar about changes to the CHOICES program on May 21 at 3:30 p.m. The CHOICES 3 program will be closed for most new enrollment on July 1. Join the TJC to learn what the closing means for consumers, advocates and providers. Contact John Orzechowski for more information.

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Tennessean Denies Requesting Personal Medical Records

The Tennessean is denying accusations that it asked for personal medical information for state lawmakers and employers. According to the publication, several Republican lawmakers, the Tennessee State Employees Association and others have said The Tennessean is seeking information that in some way violates the privacy of state lawmakers. "The Tennessean has never requested personal health care information about lawmakers or state employees regarding our coverage of Insure Tennessee,” said Maria De Varenne, news director of The Tennessean. “We have requested how much taxpayers pay for lawmakers to have state health insurance. ”

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Anti-ACA Senator Took Advantage of Health Care Law

Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, benefited from the Affordable Care Act by having his adult son enrolled on state benefits, but voted twice to keep Tennessee from using the federal health law to provide health coverage to poor people. The law mandates that all employer-based plans allow workers to add coverage for their children up to age 26. Gardenhire adamantly disputed state documents obtained by The Tennessean that showed he had a child on the plan and hung up on a reporter Monday morning. According to the newspaper, he then called back to "eat crow," apologize and say that his son, Andrew, had been covered.

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HCA National Medical Director Sued for Malpractice

Dr. Michael Murphy, the national medical director for HCA's Behavioral Health Services division, has been named as a defendant in a multi-million dollar medical malpractice suit along with two members of his former practice, the Nashville Post reports. Murphy’s former patient killed his father in the middle of a nervous breakdown. The suit alleges that Murphy failed to adequately transition the patient to two members of Murphy’s practice when he left for his current position with HCA and inappropriately accessed his medical records after he was no longer Murphy’s patient.

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Haslam Signs Abortion Clinic Bill

Clinics in Tennessee that perform more than 50 abortions per year will be regulated as ambulatory surgery treatment centers, according to a new measure signed into law Friday by Gov. Bill Haslam. The requirement means new rules governing the clinics’ physical building and staffing, the Tennessean reports. The governor has not yet signed another bill passed by the legislature that would require women seeking an abortion to obtain counseling by a physician and wait 48 hours before the procedure.

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Haslam Signs ‘Right to Try’ Legislation

Gov. Bill Haslam signed the so-called Right to Try Act into law this past Friday, the Chattanoogan reports. The new law, which passed the legislature unanimously, will allow terminally ill patients who have exhausted all conventional treatment options and cannot enroll in a clinical trial to access medicine that has been deemed safe by the Food & Drug Administration but has yet to receive the agency’s final approval. All medications available under the law must have successfully completed basic safety testing and be part of the FDA’s on-going approval process.

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B.B. King Family Loses Battle for Control

Family members of Blues legend B.B. King lost a bid to take control of their ailing father’s affairs in a Las Vegas courtroom on Thursday. Three of King’s 11 surviving children asked the court to take control from King’s longtime business manager because they said he was stealing money and neglecting King’s medical care. The judge ruled there was no evidence to back up the claims, WRCB-TV reports.

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Brentwood Hospital Group Agrees to Medicare Settlement

Brentwood-based Community Health Systems will pay $15.2 million in a settlement to resolve False Claims Act allegations, the Nashville Business Journal reports. The cases at 15 CHS-owned hospitals revolved around claims to Medicare for intensive outpatient psychotherapy services that a U.S. Department of Justice release said did not qualify for Medicare reimbursement.

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State Records Show Health Insurance Spending for Legislators

Tennesseans have paid close to $6 million in health insurance premiums for state lawmakers since 2008, the Tennessean reports after reviewing documents provided by a state agency. The newspaper sought the information on state-subsidized coverage after legislators voted down Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal to expand Medicaid coverage.

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Hooker Weighs in as Committee Considers 'Death with Dignity'

This summer, state lawmakers will gather to discuss the controversial issue of death with dignity and whether or not those with a terminal illness have the right to decide when to die. Now John Jay Hooker, who has been diagnosed with terminal melanoma, is championing this cause and fighting for the right to die with dignity. “I think if a person is suffering wants to leave this earth that the government’s got no business to tell them that they got to suffer and stay,” he told WKRN.

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Court Enters Interstate Marijuana Dispute

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday asked for the views of the Obama administration on a dispute between three states over Colorado’s 2012 legalization of marijuana. The action is a sign that the high court may be interested in the dispute, the Blog of Legal Times reports. The suit, brought by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma, does not challenge the legalization of marijuana but questions the manufacture and sale of the drug across state lines.

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Lifetime Carry, Cannabis Oil Bills Signed

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed legislation that allows Tennesseans to get a lifetime handgun-carry permit, Memphis Daily News reports. Prior to the legislature’s action this session, a permit was valid for four years. In other bill signings, WATE News 6 reports that Haslam signed a measure decriminalizes the possession of cannabis oil for treating seizures and epilepsy.

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Lawmaker Asks for AG Opinion on Indigent Health Funds

Tennessee House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, has asked Attorney General Herbert Slatery to weigh in on whether federal health officials may cut payments that help cover health costs for low-income Tennesseans just because the state chose not to expand Medicaid eligibility. The request comes in response to news that federal health officials recently told the state that funding to reimburse indigent care costs may be cut, the Tennessean reports.

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Haslam: Repeat Medicaid Sessions Not Constructive

Bringing lawmakers back to Nashville to again debate Insure Tennessee would not accomplish anything except creating “frayed nerves and hot tempers,” Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters this week. The comments came in response to a letter from House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, who said if he was governor, he would call a special legislative session “again and again” until lawmakers passed the plan. WBIR has the story from the Tennessean.

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Knoxville Celebrates ADA Anniversary

The disABILITY Resource Center (dRC) and the City of Knoxville are sponsoring a celebration in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on May 14. The event will take place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Market Square Mall. The Knoxville Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service staff will have a table at the event to answer questions from attendees. For more information or to volunteer contact KBA staff member Tracy Chain.

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