News

Lawmakers File Bill to Block State Health Exchange

Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, have filed legislation that would block the creation of a state health exchange in the event a federal court rules that tax credits under the Affordable Care Act are available only on state exchanges. Senate Bill 72 is designed to prevent “Tennessee from operating any ObamaCare exchanges in the future,” Kelsey said in a statement. The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in King vs. Burwell — a case that challenges the use of tax subsidies on the federal exchange under the ACA — on March 4. The Tennessean has the story.

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Catch Up With TennCare Rule Changes

Learn about TennCare rule changes that go into effect Jan. 1 related to the Safety Determination process and PAE Functional Assessment. This one-credit CLE course will review the changes to select functional assessment questions and criteria.  Visit TBA CLE to register.

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McNally Questions Legality of Insure Tennessee Plan

In a five-page letter to the state attorney general, Tennessee Senate Finance Committee Chairman Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, has posed a series of questions about the legal validity of Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to expand Medicaid, Knoxnews reports. The letter raises a series of questions, including long-term financial liabilities for the state, the constitutionality of terminating coverage after the two-year pilot expires and the legality of an assessment fee to be imposed on Tennessee hospitals. “We need a lot of in-depth type questions answered,” McNally said, adding he believes the “vast majority” of Republican legislators are — like himself — undecided about the proposal but are willing to listen and learn more about it.

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Proposed Bill Would Require 'Informed Consent' for Abortions

Doctors would need to provide women more information about pregnancies and abortions before performing an abortion if a bill filed Wednesday in the Tennessee General Assembly becomes law. The “informed consent” proposal comes from state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, and would restore a law that was in effect in Tennessee before a 2000 state Supreme Court ruling that drastically changed abortion laws in the state. The Tennessean has the story.

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Haslam Releases Medicaid Details, Calls for Special Session

Gov. Bill Haslam today released details for his “Insure Tennessee” plan and called on the General Assembly to hold a special session Feb. 2 to consider the proposal. Haslam’s plan would use federal Medicaid funding to create two coverage options for Tennesseans, according to the Nashville Business Journal. The first, the Volunteer Plan, would allow working Tennesseans to obtain vouchers to cover the cost of employer-offered insurance. The second option, the Healthy Incentives Plan, would create accounts to reimburse TennCare recipients for out-of-pocket health care costs. Download details of the plan.

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Law School, Children’s Hospital Partner for Healthy Homes

The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law and Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital will unveil a new joint project next Thursday to promote healthy homes, the Memphis Business Journal reports. The Healthy Homes Partnership is designed to help eliminate environmental and safety hazards in housing by fostering collaboration among housing agencies, legal services organizations and health care providers.

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Legislators Pledge Response to Hospital Bonuses

A backlash over Erlanger’s Health System’s generous bonuses to top managers is ramping up as Hamilton County lawmakers ready for the legislative session, the Times Free Press reports. State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said the payouts, which came just months after the hospital froze vacation time, tightened benefits and phased out pensions and retiree insurance, “could be the most expensive bonuses anybody has ever gotten.” Also at issue is whether hospital trustees violated the open meetings law when they discussed the bonuses at two closed meetings. Area lawmakers say they plan to ask the state attorney general to rule on whether the law was violated and several say they plan to introduce legislation to modify a 2008 law that allows public hospitals to discuss strategic plans in private meetings.

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Halsam’s ‘Insure Tennessee’ Faces Challenges

In less than a month, Gov. Bill Haslam embarks on possibly the biggest political challenge of his career: trying to pass "Insure Tennessee," his plan to use federal Medicaid expansion dollars to create new health programs for an estimated 200,000 lower-income Tennesseans. Haslam said his plan is not traditional Medicaid expansions, but emphasizes personal responsibility, requiring Tennessee residents newly eligible for some publicly financed health coverage to take an active role in making better health care decisions. Not all Republicans are behind the plan, however. Republicans have the numbers to get any bill passed without any Democrats supporting it, but if there are enough Republicans opposed to any plan, Democratic support in the House will be key, the Tennessean reports.

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Lawyers, Doctors Team Up to Help Those in Need

The January Tennessee Bar Journal explores Medical-Legal Partnerships, a concept where doctors and lawyers work together to help the overall well-being of people in need. As part of this issue's emphasis on Access to Justice, you can also read about a recent legal needs study with troubling results, as well as about those honored with public service awards for outstanding service to people in need. President Jonathan Steen writes about an important New Year's Resolution: do more pro bono, which he says he plans to keep better than his usual resolutions to eat healthier, get more sleep and exercise regularly.

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Tennessee Lawmakers Voice Opposition to ACA Tax Incentives

Nineteen current and former Tennessee legislators have filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of petitioners who oppose tax incentives to health insurance plans bought on the federal exchange. This March, the Court is set to hear the case of King v. Burwell in which the central question is whether health insurance on federal or state exchanges are eligible for tax incentives or whether tax incentives are available only on state exchanges. The Tennessean has more.

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Lawyers Help TennCare Members Get Life-Saving Drugs

A recent Tennessean article features the work of the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberland’s in helping TennCare clients get access to life-saving drugs. In one case, the agency was able to secure approval for an innovative hepatitis C drug that costs $84,000 for a 12-week treatment. The cases present a financial quandary for TennCare though. Innovative drugs account for a 14 percent increase in pharmacy costs this year and TennCare Director Darin Gordon says the Medicaid statute is not designed to allow states to respond to new high-cost specialty drugs. The Tennessean looks at the issue.

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Feds Drop Case Against Doctor Selling Canadian Drugs

In an unexplained move, the U.S. Department of Justice has asked the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the conviction of a Greeneville oncologist and his wife, Knoxnews reports. The department filed the motion in the case of Dr. Anindya Sen and his office manager Patricia Posey Sen, who were convicted of buying mislabeled cancer drugs from Canada. The couple claims that the supplier had assured them that the drugs were approved by the FDA, and that they did not know until several years later that the drugs came from foreign sources. In what some argued was an overreach by the government, the couple also was charged with health care fraud, with prosecutors arguing that they purchased the cheaper drugs so they could defraud Medicare. A jury rejected that and other felony charges brought against them. The latest move by the DOJ would vacate the misdemeanor conviction and prohibit the case from being resurrected.

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Supreme Court Rules Hospitals Can’t Maintain Liens After Bills Paid in Full

In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court has decided that hospitals are required to release their hospital lien against a patient as soon as the patient and the patient’s insurance company have paid the full amount of the hospital charges. In West v.Shelby County Healthcare Corp., three patients who received treatment at the Regional Medical Center in Memphis’ (Med) emergency room filed suit in the Circuit Court for Shelby County challenging the Med’s practice of filing liens against its patients and declining to release these liens after they had been paid. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, but the Court of Appeals reversed. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted the Med’s appeal, ruling that neither the laws authorizing hospital liens nor the Med’s contract with health insurance companies permitted the Med to maintain its lien after the patient’s debt to the Med has been fully extinguished with payments from the patient and the patient’s insurance company. The AOC has more.

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Court Vacates Extraordinary Appeal

The Tennessee Supreme Court today ruled that a Hamilton County trial court did not depart from accepted and usual judicial course during a health care liability lawsuit, so an immediate appellate court review was not called for. The Court of Appeals had granted an application for an extraordinary appeal in a case involving a request to waive the Tennessee law that requires expert medical testimony to come from one who practices in Tennessee or a contiguous state. With this ruling, the court remanded the case back to the trial court.

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New Master's in Health Law and Policy Offered

A new online master of science in health law and policy degree will be offered through Samford University's Cumberland School of Law. The first class will be admitted for fall 2015. Professionals in the fields of compliance, human resources, insurance and health care administration will gain a marketable expertise in the increasingly complex world of health law and policy, according to Henry Strickland, Cumberland School of Law dean. The degree also will benefit recent graduates who plan to enter the field of health care compliance or administration, as well as attorneys interested in pursuing specialization in health law or policy, the school reported.

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Opponents Call for More Disclosure on Amendment 1 Votes

Opponents of Amendment 1 are calling on Secretary of State Tre Hargett to release any information used to support his decision to certify the results of the November vote on the amendment. The group had filed a complaint in federal court alleging that the state used a faulty method of counting votes on the amendment and thus violated voters’ rights. In a statement issued today, the group says it was not given notice of the certification and that the state has not provided any information to justify its assertion that the votes were counted in accordance with the state constitution. “Until we have transparency from the Secretary of State we are not going to know how the vote really turned out and whether it complied with the constitution,” said Nashville attorney Bill Harbison, who represents the plaintiffs in the federal suit.

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Haslam Unveils Medicaid Expansion Plans

After 17 months of working on a compromise Medicaid expansion plan, Gov. Bill Haslam today announced a two-year pilot program that will use federal money to create two new options for low-income Tennesseans, the Nashville Business Journal reports. The governor said he intends to call a special session of the General Assembly in January to get approval for the plan. Under Insure Tennessee, workers will be able to obtain vouchers to cover their portion of employer-offered insurance, while others can seek reimbursement from TennCare for out-of-pocket health care costs. Haslam promised the plan would not lead to new taxes or state costs and announced that the Tennessee Hospital Association agreed to cover any costs not covered by federal funding. The plan has received verbal approval from federal officials, Haslam said, but still needs an official waiver.

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New App Helps with Health Care Decisions

A new smartphone app developed by the ABA’s Commission on Law and Aging allows individuals and families to manage and share their health care advance directives and related information. The app, which offers unlimited storage and management of personal and family profiles and documents, is the latest resources released by the commission to help individuals make health care decisions. Other tools include a multi-state health care power of attorney, a consumer’s toolkit for health care advance planning and a guide to making medical decisions for others.

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Haslam to Decide Medicaid Expansion by Christmas

After a TennCare budget hearing Friday, Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters that he has been in talks with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and should have a decision on expanding Medicaid coverage by Christmas. Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act was optional for states, Haslam has talked with federal officials about customizing it for Tennessee. Haslam must also win approval from a Republican-dominated state legislature to undertake any expansion, the Nashville Business Journal reports.

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AOC Clarifies New Rule Allowing Fixed-Fee Contracts for Indigent Representation

The Administrative Office of the Courts today released a statement clarifying the recent adoption of a new Rule 13, Section 7, allowing flat fee contracts for court-appointed work in the areas of judicial hospitalization, child support contempt and dependency and neglect cases. The office reiterated that the new rule does not require but merely allows fixed fee contracts in these case areas, nor does it require the AOC to award contracts to lowest bidder or engage in bidding at all.

"The goal is not to displace attorneys who currently do the work," the AOC said in its statement. "The goal is to manage the resources given to the indigent fund by the legislature in the most efficient way possible." The AOC indicated that the first area to use the new contract method will be Shelby County in judicial hospitalization cases. Beginning in January 2015, judges may still assign attorneys to these cases, but only those who agree to the new contract system. In the 2013-14 budget year, judicial hospitalizations represented only 4 percent of the Indigent Representation Fund budget.

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State Spends Millions to Save Emails for Lawsuits

Tennessee state agencies are spending millions of dollars on email storage, in many cases because court orders direct them to preserve evidence, Nashville Public Radio reports. The Department of Children’s Services, for example, spends at least $865,000 a year to store email records, while TennCare spends more than $1 million a year to transfer and store emails connected to a number of lawsuits. Michele Johnson, executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center – which has sued the state on behalf of TennCare patients – defended the costs saying the protection is necessary to ensure state agencies do not destroy potential evidence.

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Legal Aid Names New Medical-Legal Director

Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands (LAS) has named Audrey Dorrough Seamon as director of the Middle Tennessee Medical-Legal Partnership. Seamon has worked at LAS since January 2013, primarily representing domestic violence victims in areas of family, juvenile and elder law. In her new job, she will oversee program operations and support partnerships, which include United Neighborhood Health Services (UNHS) and Vanderbilt University’s student-run Shade Tree Clinic. Read more in this release from the group.

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House GOP Sue Over Health Care Law Implementation

House Republicans today filed a lawsuit against the Obama Administration over unilateral actions on the health care law that they say are abuses of the president’s executive authority. The suit accuses the administration of unlawfully postponing a requirement that larger employers offer health coverage to their full-time employees or pay penalties. It also challenges the payment of roughly $175 billion to insurance companies for subsides to low income customers. The New York Times has more.

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Woodbury Attorney Pleads Guilty to Theft

Woodbury City Attorney Dale Peterson says he may be set to resign his position after pleading guilty to stealing more than $20,000 from a local psychiatric hospital, the Murfreesboro Post reports. Last week, Peterson entered a plea to theft over $1,000 from Riverside Center, a part of Stones River Hospital. As a representative of the center, Peterson filed documents and paid fees to the Cannon County Clerk’s office. But from March 2012 to July 2014 prosecutors found that he stopped filing documents and pocketed the fees. Woodbury Mayor Harold Patrick says he will recommend a new city attorney at the city council meeting on Dec. 5.

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Belmont Law Moot Court Wins National Championship

Belmont University College of Law moot court team recently won the national championship at the National Health Law Moot Court Competition in Carbondale, Illinois. The  team defeated schools from all across the county in six rounds of arguments. The team was comprised of law students Courtney Lutz, Heath Henley and Ben Conrady and was led by College of Law faculty member Amy Moore.

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