News

Hotel Deadline Near for 28th Annual Health Law Forum

If you attend the 28th Annual Health Law Forum Oct. 20-21 in Franklin, you will hear from leading private practitioners on topics including practitioner assistance programs, medical staffing issues and fair market value issues in physician acquisitions and divestitures, among others. If you are travelling from out of town, be sure to contact the Embassy Suites at 615-515-5151 by Friday to secure the special TBA group room rate.

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PD: Inmates Wait too Long for Mental Health Care

People detained at the Shelby County Jail are waiting an “extraordinary” amount of time for state treatment of serious mental illness, Shelby County’s chief public defender says in a letter to state officials. Referencing a “crisis” in admissions from the jail to state hospitals, Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush said in a letter to the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services that he is “shocked” by the delay for people who are court-ordered for treatment at the Western Mental Health Institute in Bolivar. The Commercial Appeal has more on the issue.

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Blue Cross Pulls out of Insurance Exchange in 3 Cities

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee will not sell insurance plans on the federal exchange in the state’s three largest metro areas next year, the Tennessean reported today. The healthcare giant is grappling with hefty losses and ongoing uncertainty in the marketplace, despite winning state approval to increase its rates. The decision means that consumers in Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville will have to look to another insurer for coverage in 2017. The paper estimates the decision will impact nearly 115,000 people.

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Report: Opioid Lobby Spends Big in Tennessee

Tennessee politicians received more than $1.6 million in campaign contributions over the past decade from pharmaceutical companies and other members of the Pain Care Forum, a coalition that meets monthly to discuss opioid-related issues, according to an investigation by the Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity. The groups examined the industry’s influence at statehouses around the nation. About $560,000 went to Tennessee state candidates and state political parties, and more than $1 million went to those running for federal office, the study found. The Tennessean has a breakdown of giving.

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New Justice Center to Include Mental Health Unit

With demolition work being done at the former Davidson County Criminal Justice Center, the county sheriff is sharing plans to include a mental health unit in the new jail. “You wouldn’t be booked, you wouldn’t be charged criminally,” Daron Hall said. Plans call for a 64-bed facility to house those arrested for misdemeanor charges and flagged during a mental health evaluation, News Channel 5 reports. About $10 million from the project’s overall $113 million budget was set aside for the mental health unit. The center is expected to open in 2019.

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Disability Law CLE Videos Now Available

If you missed the TBA’s Annual Disability Law Forum, the sessions are now available online. Presentations cover client consultations, ADA accessibility and effective communication, and ethics for the disability law practioner. Check them out today!

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Nursing Home Operator Accused of Fraud

Vanguard Healthcare, a Brentwood-based skilled nursing and rehab company that earlier this year filed for bankruptcy, is now facing a False Claims Act lawsuit from the federal government. According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee, six Vanguard facilities across the state and a former director of operations are accused of submitting false claims to Medicare and TennCare using forged physician and nurse signatures. The Nashville Business Journal reports.

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Jury Awards Almost $19M to Nashville Healthcare Company

A Nashville jury recently awarded $18.8 million to SpecialtyCare, a healthcare provider of neurophysiologic monitoring services. The award included $16 million in punitive damages and $2.8 million for lost profits. The jury found that SpecialtyCare competitor Medsurant LLC interfered with the assets of ProNerve, which was acquired by SpecialtyCare in 2015, and intentionally destroyed and concealed records in order to avoid liability. The Nashville Business Journal has more on the case.

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Tennessee Gets Federal Funds to Fight Opioid Use

Tennessee is set to receive federal money to improve opioid overdose awareness and track overdose death rates and providers’ prescribing habits, the Tennessean reports. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is distributing $53 million to states that applied through a competitive grant process.

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State Dems Want Hearing on Insurance Rates

Tennessee Democratic lawmakers are calling for a public hearing on the state’s decision to approve increases for some health insurance plans by as much as 62 percent. They say Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak has not done enough to show the increases are needed to keep the health insurance market afloat, Nashville Public Radio reports. McPeak blamed flaws in the Affordable Care Act for the increase. But Democrat Sen. Jeff Yarbro questioned why Tennessee is doing so much worse than everyone else. “Why are our rates going up higher and faster than every country — every other state in the country?” Some say it is because the state has not expanded its Medicaid program to include the sickest residents, leaving them in the general insurance pool.

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Legal Aid Reports $23M Impact on Middle Tennessee

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands has tallied its annual impact on the region and found it provided $23.3 million worth of free legal assistance in 2015 – a 2.6 percent increase over 2014. The group also reported that it handled 7,022 cases across its 48-county service area; organized 76 free legal clinics, which served 1,447 attendees; coordinated 733 free legal educational seminars with almost 29,400 attendees; and distributed 64,607 self-help brochures. The agency this year also launched a re-entry program that helps people with criminal records deal with civil legal issues such as fairness in housing, employment and health care. Read more from the agency’s year-end report.

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Jury Imposes $30M Judgment on Memphis Nursing Home

A Shelby County jury has set a $30 million judgment against Allenbrooke Nursing and Rehabilitation Center after finding the Memphis nursing home liable for negligence, violations of the Tennessee Adult Protection Act, fraudulent records of care and medical malpractice, the Commercial Appeal reports. The verdict includes $1.9 million for negligence, $129,000 for violations of the protection act, and $28 million in punitive damages against Allenbrooke, four related companies and two owners in New York. 

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Questions Surface Over Bell’s Mental Health Orders

Already facing scrutiny over her work schedule, Nashville General Sessions Judge Rachel Bell now appears to have retroactively signed orders to commit 11 people to a local mental health institution, though she never heard the cases. While Bell was on vacation, she arranged for another lawyer to cover for her. But that individual forgot to sign orders keeping the patients in mental health facilities. Bell retroactively signed them six days later, pointing to the practice in Shelby County, where she says other judges sign off on orders they do not hear. Some are now questioning whether the orders are legitimate, the Tennessean reports.

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States File Suit Over Transgender Healthcare Rules

Texas and four other states filed another lawsuit this week seeking to roll back the Obama administration’s efforts to strengthen transgender rights, saying new federal nondiscrimination health rules could force doctors, hospitals and insurers to act contrary to their medical judgment or religious beliefs. Kansas, Kentucky Nebraska and Wisconsin joined the suit, which argues that the rules could force doctors to help with gender transition procedures against their beliefs. The Associated Press has the story.

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State Approves $25M Mental Health Hospital

A state board has approved a request by Erlanger Hospital to build a new $25 million, 88-bed mental health hospital in Chattanooga, the Times Free Press reports. While opponents argued that the real need in the state is not new beds, but more staffing for existing beds, Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Gary Starnes backed the project, saying too many of the people he sees in his courtroom have significant mental health issues but no place to go for treatment. “This week, I have seen 12 individuals who needed care at [the state mental health facility], but they can’t get in. So we try to keep them in a jail cell,” he told the panel.

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Tennessee Participating in Multi-state Opioid Initiative

Tennessee is one of nine states participating in an opioid abuse summit taking place in Cincinnati this week, the Times Free Press reports. The primary goals of the group are to improve cooperation across borders and jurisdictions, identify best practices for testing and treatment services and increase access to prescription drug data. Other states involved are Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Speakers were to include Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton. In related news, the U.S. Surgeon General has taken the unprecedented step of contacting 2.3 million prescribers in America to ask them to help change the way the country thinks about addiction as opioids cause more than 1,000 emergency room visits and 78 deaths each day.

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Court Square Series: Sept. 9 in Jackson

The 2016 Court Square series is heading to Jackson! On Sept. 9, Nancy Choate, Sherry Wilds and Linda Warren Seely will address Medicaid planning, occupational diploma, hiring persons with disabilities and how lawyers can best thrive. The course will take place at the Chamber of Commerce.

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Disability Group Seeks Attorney in Chattanooga

The Florida-based Disability Help Group is seeking an associate attorney to serve the greater Chattanooga area. Responsibilities include helping individuals obtain disability benefits from the Social Security Administration and handling all stages of the administrative process. Past experience with SSA cases is not required but successful candidates will need to spend four to six months in Florida for training. Those hired also must be able to work from home. Interested individuals should submit a cover letter, salary request and resume to Matthew Sauerwald. Learn more in this job announcement.

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Insurance Commissioner: Health Exchange ‘Very Near Collapse’

Tennessee Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak proclaimed the state’s health exchange “very near collapse” yesterday after signing off on significant premium hikes in a bid to keep the platform viable. The rate approvals were necessary to ensure healthcare options in every part of Tennessee, McPeak said. Tennessee is seeing a steady decrease in the number of insurance companies selling plans on the federally run exchange, the Tennessean reports. In 2017, 57 of the state’s 95 counties will have only one insurance company serving their area.

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Judge Plans 10th Judicial District Mental Health Court

Circuit Court Judge Andrew Freiberg has announced plans to create a new mental health court in the 10th Judicial District, the Cleveland Banner reports. Freiberg said the move recognizes the need to rehabilitate individuals through appropriate mental health treatment as well as the limitations of the traditional criminal justice system in dealing with repeat non-violent offenders with mental health issues. The court, set to launch in January, will serve every county in the district, including Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk.

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Legal Aid Gets $15,000 Grant for Food Stamp Advocacy

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands has received a $15,000 grant to support the anti-hunger efforts of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. This is the third year the agency has received money from the national nonprofit working to end hunger in the United States and Israel. Funds will be used to advocate for clients receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Russell Overby and Emma Sholl in the Nashville office and Theresa-Vay Smith in the Oak Ridge office will focus on this work.

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New Rules Prohibit Discrimination in Health Care Services

A new set of federal regulations under the Affordable Care Act makes it illegal for health care providers to discriminate on the basis of disability, race or sex, which includes gender identity, sex stereotypes, termination of pregnancy and sex-related medical conditions. Providers must set up a grievance procedure for complaints and post information about the rules on their websites. Though the regulations were released earlier this summer, they have not received much attention, one legal analyst says in this Tennessean article.

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Nashville Lawyer Named 2016 Emerging Leader

Nashville lawyer Gabe Roberts with the Bureau of TennCare has been named the 2016 Nashville Emerging Leader in the legal services category. The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and YP Nashville announced the winners in a variety of categories this week, the Tennessean reports. Roberts serves on the TBA Health Law Section’s Executive Council. He also serves on the board of Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee and is treasurer of the Phoenix Club of Nashville.

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Health Law Expert Joins UT Law Faculty

The University of Tennessee College of Law has welcomed Zack Buck to its faculty as an assistant professor specializing in health law. Buck joins the school after spending three years as an assistant professor at the Mercer University School of Law in Georgia, a visiting professor at two other law schools and a litigator at Sidley Austin. His past work includes examining governmental enforcement of laws and rules affecting health, how the enforcement of healthcare fraud and abuse laws impacts quality of care, and the legal regulation of over-treatment.

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AG Announces Settlement with Anti-Competitive Pharma Business

Attorney General Herbert Slatery announced today that Tennessee, 48 other states and the District of Columbia have reached an agreement with Cephalon Inc. and affiliated companies, now a part of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, following alleged anti-competitive conduct. The $125 million settlement concludes an investigation into a scheme by Cephalon to block generic competition to its sleep-disorder drug, Provigil. Cephalon prevented competition by filing patent infringement lawsuits against potential competitors, and then paid those competitors to delay the sale of their generic versions of the drug. In total, the states will receive $35 million for distribution to consumers who purchased Provigil. Tennessee and its consumers will receive an estimated $3.32 million.

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