News

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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GOP Continues Court Attack on ACA

Two members of the Tennessee congressional delegation are taking part in a court challenge to President Barack Obama’s health care reforms. Reps. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, and Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, are part of a friend-of-the-court brief that contends the various taxes in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are unconstitutional because they were added by the U.S. Senate. Under the Constitution, measures raising new revenues must originate in the House of Representatives. However, the district court that first considered the case dismissed their argument saying, “The Supreme Court has long held that … revenue bills are those that levy taxes, in the strict sense of the word, and are not bills for other purposes which may incidentally create revenue.” The Leaf Chronicle has more.

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Criminal Charges Considered in Meningitis Case

No criminal charges have been filed so far in the fungal meningitis outbreak that killed more than a dozen in Tennessee. But Michigan's attorney general and Boston's federal prosecutor say they’re now sharing evidence from their separate investigations, NPR reports. A federal grand jury in Boston has been investigating the New England Compounding Center for more than a year now, and the FBI recently made a plea through its website, asking anyone who received a tainted steroid shot to describe where and how they received the injection and what their illnesses have been. The pair spoke about the progress of the case at a press conference yesterday. “It’s a very complex, wide-ranging investigation," U.S. Attorney Carmen Oritz said. "I believe it’s moving very steadily forward. But no charges have been filed, as of yet.”

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Contraceptive Mandate Blocked in Federal Appeals Court

A federal appeals court based in Chicago has blocked the so-called contraceptive mandate that requires companies to provide contraceptive coverage in group health-care plans for employees, the ABA Journal reports. In a 2-1 decision, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today on behalf of two closely held companies and their Catholic owners, who claimed the mandate under the Affordable Care Act violated their rights provided by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

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State Officials Warn of ACA Scams

Scam artists don't need special knowledge about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to take advantage of unsuspecting victims, state officials say. The law's sheer complexity and the its rocky rollout have created ample opportunity for scam artists to target those worried about changes in their health coverage -- especially the elderly, says Kate Abernathy, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance. So far, reports of scams include bogus websites, cold calls touting special ACA insurance cards and offers to help people sign up for insurance for a fee. The Chattanooga Times Free Press has more on the story.

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Haslam, Sebelius Differ on Status of Medicaid Talks

Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday he is continuing to have conversations with federal officials about a way to expand Medicaid coverage for Tennesseans, the Times Free Press reports. Haslam, who declined to pursue an expansion of Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act, is instead pursuing an expansion of TennCare. In a recent visit to the state though, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said her office has yet to receive specifics from Haslam. The governor denied that claim, saying his administration has "presented a specific plan.”

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Corker Joins in Co-sponsoring GOP Health Care Bill

Senator Bob Corker said today that he is joining in as a co-sponsor of a bill that he and 37 other Republican cosponsors say "would provide relief from Obamacare standards for current health care policies, giving Americans the freedom to keep their current health care plans if they so choose." The Chattanoogan has more.

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New TBJ Features Update on Med Mal

In the November issue, out today, the Tennessee Bar Journal looks at the Tennessee Medical Malpractice Act five years after two important statutes were enacted. Clinton L. Kelly writes about how the appellate courts have interpreted the notice statue and the certificate of good faith law. Also, don't miss words of wisdom from the students of the Law Launch Project, such as: "A group of people thrown into a pit of hell together will either kill each other or band together to fight the evil forces. I think in law school it happens both ways."

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