News

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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New TBJ Explains Firms' HIPAA Obligations

Law firms acting as business associates to health care providers and other entities associated with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) must comply with large parts of the act. John V. Arnold's story in the April Tennessee Bar Journal outlines and explains what firms need to do. Also in this issue, Russell Fowler explores the history of lawyer Milton Brown, who in the 1830s took on an unpopular client because of his belief that everyone is entitled to legal representation. Also, Humor columnist Bill Haltom of Lewis Thomason shakes his head at the latest ranking of Top 100 Jobs from U.S. News & World Report -- and gives his thoughts on where "lawyer" comes in.

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Justice Department Joins Whistle Blower Suit

The U.S. Department of Justice has joined a whistle-blower lawsuit claiming Tenet Corp. and Health Management Associates (HMA) entered into contracts with clinics that referred pregnant women living in the U.S. illegally to hospitals operated by HMA and Tenet in exchange for kickbacks from fraudulent Medicaid claims. Last year, Tenet acquired Nashville-based Vanguard Health Systems, while HMA was recently purchased by Franklin-based Community Health Systems. The Nashville Business Journal has more.

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If You Did It, Flaunt It With a TBJ Announcement

The Tennessee Bar Journal has a new opportunity for lawyers and firms to promote outstanding achievements, new associates, new partners, mergers, awards and any changes within the firm. Now, Professional Announcements are available at special, lower-rate pricing. You can tell more than 12,000 of your peers about your accomplishments by placing an announcement in the Journal. For information or to place an announcement, contact Debbie Taylor at 503-445-2231 or Debbie@llm.com. To have an announcement placed in the April issue, please contact her before Feb. 18.

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NSL Adds Health Care Executive to Faculty

The Nashville School of Law announced today that it has hired Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) executive Eileen Schoen Githens as a new health law instructor. Githens, who is vice president and chief operations counsel at HCA, will begin teaching this year. Prior to joining HCA in 1996, Githens worked in private practice where she developed managed care agreements, defended health fraud cases, prepared hospital service agreements and developed physician practice structures. Githens earned her law degree from the University of South Carolina Law School in 1993. Read more about her background in a press release from the school.

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Nashville Meningitis Cases May Get First Trials

Nashville-area victims of the nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak would be the first to have their cases come to trial under a proposal being considered by a federal judge in Boston, the Tennessean reports. According to Boston attorney Kristen Johnson Parker, one or more cases brought by Tennessee victims could go to trial next year and serve as “bellwether” suits – a procedure used by the federal courts to speed the processing of multiple related lawsuits. It is not clear yet whether the trials would be held in Boston or in Tennessee, Parker said. Those involved in the cases say priority consideration for Tennessee victims is based on the large number of cases from the state.

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Nuns Get Temporary Relief from Contraception Mandate

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday offered a short-term compromise that would continue to exempt a group of Denver nuns from meeting a birth control mandate for their nursing home employees. Under the arrangement, the nuns can declare themselves a religious nonprofit organization opposed to birth control and continue to be exempt while their case is heard by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court’s action came after Justice Sonia Sotomayor blocked the contraceptive coverage mandate for the nuns just hours before the health law went into effect.

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Lawmakers File Bill to Block Health Care Act

State Sen. Mae Beavers and three House Republicans today released a bill designed to stop President Barack Obama’s health care reform law, the Tennessean reports. The bill would block the state and local governments from buying health insurance through the federal website, Healthcare.gov, and possibly make it illegal for state contractors to buy insurance on the exchange, even for their own employees. The bill is sure to face formidable legal questions since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the core of the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, and past attempts to stop the health care law in Tennessee have run aground because of the well-established constitutional principle that state laws cannot trump federal laws.

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Legal Aid Receives Grant for Medical Legal Partnership

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands has received a $55,000 grant from Baptist Healing Trust to support its Middle Tennessee Medical Legal Partnership. The partnership -- a joint effort between Legal Aid and Vanderbilt University -- integrates legal advocacy into the health care system at two Nashville clinics. The funds, according to Gary Housepian, executive director of the Legal Aid Society, will allow the agency to continue providing free, direct legal services to low-income patients and their families receiving treatment at the United Neighborhood Health Services clinic and the Shade Tree Clinic. Funds also will be used to train health care professionals on how to recognize a patient’s need for legal assistance as it relates to their illness.

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Legislature Opens Short Session with Long Agenda

The Tennessee state legislature convenes Tuesday with an agenda affecting everything from where residents attend school to where they can buy wine and cold medicine. But with elections in the fall, observers predict that lawmakers will try “to keep infighting to a minimum and wrap up the legislative session as quickly as possible,” the Associated Press reports in the Kinsgport Times News. In addition, according to The Commercial Appeal, the chambers likely will focus on agenda items left unfinished last year, including school vouchers, education standards, expansion of Medicaid, sale of wine in grocery stores, workplace protections for those who lock guns in trunks and prescriptions for pseudoephedrine products.

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Nashville Rep. Introduces Medical Marijuana Bill

State Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, introduced legislation this week that would allow qualified patients authorized by their physicians to engage in cannabis therapy, the Johnson City Press reports. The bill outlines medical use under the Safe Access program, which would be regulated by the Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and the state Board of Pharmacy. Under the program, caregivers could give patients a card that qualifies them to purchase medical marijuana at selected pharmacies or “dispensaries.” Qualifying medical conditions include cancer, glaucoma, immune-deficiency diseases, chronic pain, nausea and seizures.

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State Files $10M Claim in Meningitis Case

Tennessee this week filed a $10 million claim in the New England Compounding Center’s bankruptcy case – a move aimed at recouping money it has spent on fines, penalties and administrative expenses related to the meningitis outbreak. However, officials acknowledge they probably will never see that much money, The Tennessean reports. Either way, some victims’ advocates were not happy with the decision saying the state’s claim would siphon funds away from injured patients.

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Memphis Law to Launch Health Care Institute

The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law announced it will be launching a new Health Law Institute this spring, the Memphis Business Journal reports. The new institute will feature a ramped-up health law curriculum while also emphasizing practical skills and learning experiences with health law attorneys in the region. Associate professor Amy Campbell will lead the initiative.

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DOJ Responds to Health Care Injunction

In response to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s injunction relieving the Little Sisters of the Poor of the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate, the Department of Justice (DOJ) responded today that the religious organization does not need an injunction because it is already eligible for an exemption. According to the Nashville Business Journal, the DOJ stated the organization can self-certify that it is a religious organization and objects to providing contraceptive coverage on religious grounds. If it does so, the agency says, the third party administrator of the group's self-insured health plan is under no obligation to provide the coverage. The agency also took the opportunity to draw a distinction between religious groups and businesses like Hobby Lobby that also are seeking to avoid the mandate, noting that for-profit corporations should not qualify for religious exemptions. Sotomayor will now review the government's argument and decide whether to lift the injunction.

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Court Temporarily Halts Contraception Mandate

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted a temporary exemption to two Catholic Church-affiliated nonprofits that have objected to the Affordable Care Act's requirement that employers provide contraceptive coverage to workers or face fines. The groups, The Little Sisters of the Poor of Colorado and Christian Brothers Services of Illinois, object to the mandate on moral and religious grounds, CNN reports on WCYB TV. Sotomayor provided a reprieve until Friday when the federal government must file a response. The White House said Wednesday that the groups are not subject to the requirement because the law does not apply to self-funded church plans. In addition to the matter handled by Sotomayor, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an emergency stay for other Catholic-affiliated groups challenging the contraceptive provision, including the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and Catholic University, Fox News reports.

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Meningitis Suit Agreement Exceeds $100 Million

Lawyers representing victims of the fungal meningitis outbreak announced Monday a preliminary settlement of more than $100 million with the owners of New England Compounding Center (NECC) and its insurers, the Tennessean reports. The agreement was negotiated as part of bankruptcy court proceedings and is only for claims against the NECC, not for the dozens of suits filed against health care providers such as St. Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Clinic, which injected patients with the contaminated steroid.

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UT Medical Group to Appeal $33.5 Million Verdict

UT Medical Group Inc. says it plans to appeal a Memphis jury’s $33.5 million malpractice verdict against the organization that has its leadership considering bankruptcy protection. The Memphis Business Journal reports that case records from Shelby County Circuit Court show that after the verdict, UTMG called for a new trial and requested the $33.5 million verdict be reduced. Circuit Court Judge Robert Childers denied the motion for a new trial but agreed to reduce the award by $1 million.

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Insurers Agree to Settle Meningitis Cases

A major settlement reached with insurance companies will provide “a very significant amount” for victims in a nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak, says bankruptcy trustee Paul D. Moore, who has been handling the cases filed against the New England Compounding Center. Moore announced on Friday that an agreement had been reached with the company's primary insurer. He also said there was an agreement with the insurer for another defendant in a series of civil suits that have been merged before a federal judge in Boston. The settlement is still subject to court approval, though parties on both sides applauded the plan. Read more in The Tennessean.

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Mynatt Named Manager of Oak Ridge Legal Aid

Janet Mynatt is the new managing attorney of the Legal Aid Society's Oak Ridge office. She replaces Neil McBride, who retired this month after 35 years of service. “Janet is an outstanding attorney and natural leader -- the perfect person to fill the big shoes of Neil McBride, who has managed the Oak Ridge office since 1978,” said Gary Housepian, executive director of Legal Aid Society. Mynatt has served at Legal Aid since 2001 and has been active in the medical and benefits community, editing Legal Aid’s Sixth Circuit Social Security Manual, helping form a medical-legal partnership at a rural health center in Jellico and serving as chair the TBA’s Disability Law Section. The Oak Ridger has more.

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UT Medical Group Considering Bankruptcy in Wake of Verdict

UT Medical Group Inc. is considering bankruptcy after a Memphis jury found that delays in performing an urgently needed cesarean section resulted in a baby developing severe brain damage and cerebral palsy, and awarded a $33.5 million verdict against obstetrician Gary Lipscomb and UTMG. Through a statement delivered exclusively to the Memphis Business Journal, UTMG said the case remains subject to review by the appellate courts and settlement negotiations are ongoing. However, the verdict’s unusually high value has compelled the UTMG board to consider seeking protection through bankruptcy court.

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Clinic Seeks Dismissal of Meningitis Claims

In a move that could affect dozens of other cases, lawyers for the Nashville clinic where patients were injected with tainted steroids have filed a motion to dismiss suits filed on behalf of 14 Kentucky residents, The Tennessean reports. The motions, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Boston, charge that the suits filed on behalf of the Kentucky residents do not meet the pre-notice requirements of Tennessee’s health care liability law. The motion also seeks to dismiss product liability and civil conspiracy charges under the same argument.

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Haslam: No Medicaid Expansion without Policy Waivers

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has put a top Obama administration official on notice that if the state’s plan to expand Medicaid is not approved, an estimated 181,000 Tennesseans won't get coverage under the federal health care law, the Times Free Press reports. Haslam, who has been in negotiations with the government for months, wants to keep costs associated with any Medicaid expansion down by charging enrollees higher co-payments when they unnecessarily use expensive services or indulge in unhealthy habits. He also wants to reform provider reimbursements and modify services now required for "medically fragile" enrollees. Absent federal approval for those policy changes, Haslam warned he does not "see a path forward in the current environment that will allow us to extend coverage.”

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