News

Tennessee Rejects Health Care Exchange Partnership

Tennessee will not participate in a partnership with the federal government to establish a health care exchange, Knoxnews reports. In a letter to U.S. Health and Human Resources Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Haslam said the partnership model does not address his concerns over what he called misguided federal policies, aggressive timelines and a lack of flexibility for  states. He noted he had the same complains when he rejected a state-based exchange in December.

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Meningitis Litigation Centralized in Massachusetts

All suits filed against the New England Compounding Center (NECC) over the recent meningitis outbreak will be heard in federal court in Massachusetts, where the pharmacy is located, News Channel 5 reports. A judicial panel centralized the suits in Massachusetts because that is where NECC’s bankrupty case is pending, and the primary witness and evidence will likely be located there. Judge F. Dennis Saylor has been assigned to hear the more than 120 suites filed in the case.

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Government Recovers $4.2 Billion in Heath Care Fraud

A record $4.2 billion was recovered through heath care fraud investigations in 2012 by the Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services. The Nashville Business Journal reports that the DOJ opened 1,131 new criminal and 885 new civil fraud investigations with a total of 826 defendants convicted for health care fraud-related crimes this year. About $4.1 billion was recovered in fiscal year 2011.

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Medicaid Expansion Ban on Hold

With Gov. Bill Haslam telling reporters today that he will not decide whether the state should expand its Medicaid program before the end of the legislative session, Republican leaders in the General Assembly have put a hold on legislation to ban expansion, the Nashville City Paper reports. Twenty-six Republicans in the House and 16 in the Senate have signed on as co-sponsors of legislation to ban an expansion, but House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey say they want to delay that effort to give the governor time to consider all options. Ramsey said fellow Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey has agreed to delay consideration of his bill. Harwell said her chamber will take a wait and see approach.

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Education, Jobs, TennCare Top Chamber’s Priority List

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce released its 2013 state legislative agenda yesterday, identifying its top priorities for Tennessee lawmakers. The Nashville Business Journal reports that improving primary and secondary education topped the list in terms of importance, followed by job creation, support for the federally funded TennCare/Medicaid expansion, workers’ compensation reform and immigration reform.

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Miller & Martin Hires First Attorney Since Last Summer

Chattanooga-based law firm Miller & Martin has hired its first attorney in its Nashville office since 37 attorneys left the firm in June 2012 to join the Mississippi-based Butler Snow O’Mara Stevens and Cannada. Susan Steelman, a 1995 graduate of Vanderbilt School of Law, will head the firm’s health care practice. She previously served as director of loss prevention and regulatory matters for the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Virginia, and as associate general counsel for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, according to an excerpt from a press release republished in the Nashville Business Journal.

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New Health Care Ruling Puts Pressure on Employers

Under a new reform released this week by the U.S. Treasury Department, large employers will now face penalties for every employee who receives federally subsidized coverage. The Affordable Care Act provides federal subsidies to workers who aren't able to get "affordable" insurance through their employers, which is defined as less than 9.5 percent of household income. The rule applies that 9.5 percent to the cost of a worker's individual coverage however, not the cost to cover an entire family. Businesses with 50 or more full time workers must now “face decisions on the amount their employees contribute to their own health insurance,” John Graves said in an email to the Nashville Business Journal.

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Mental Health Court Graduates 6 in First Year

At the end of its first year, the Coffee County Mental Health Court is off to a solid start, according to officials, with six graduates and roughly 25 clients participating in the program. “That’s at least six people who’ve been able to stay out of jail for at least a year, or year and a half,” said Coffee County Judge Tim Brock. “They’re no longer on probation, and some even have fulltime employment and are leading very productive lives, so we think that’s an accomplishment.” Read more about the program in The Tullahoma News.

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Tennessee Native Leaves White House Team

Roane County native Nancy-Ann DeParle, who helped craft President Barack Obama's health reform law, has left the White House to take a position at The Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank. DeParle joined the Obama team in 2009 as director of the White House Office of Health Care Reform. She most recently served as assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff. In her new position, she will be a guest scholar in economic studies and lecturer at Harvard Law School, according to Knoxnews.com. A graduate of the University of Tennessee, DeParle previously headed Tennessee's Department of Human Services and worked in the White House budget office under former President Bill Clinton.

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Judge Freezes NECC Assets, Appoints Trustee

U.S. Judge Henry Boroff has given the go-ahead to creditors of the New England Compounding Center to seek a freeze on the assets of company owners up to $21 million. Boroff also approved a request to have an independent trustee oversee the liquidation of the firm. NECC, based in Framingham, Mass., has been blamed by state and federal regulators for a fungal meningitis outbreak that has killed 44 people, 14 of them treated in Tennessee. The Tennessean has the story.

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AOC Report Pans Statewide Veterans Court System

Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, last year proposed legislation to set up a statewide framework for veterans’ treatment courts, which would operate much like drug courts. During consideration, the bill was amended to instead call for a study of the matter by the Administrative Office of the Courts. The recently released report is far from supportive of the idea, finding that establishing a statewide system in 2013 is “neither necessary or preferable,” Knoxnews.com reports. Instead, the AOC maintains that the “most effective and cost-efficient method of assisting … [veterans] is to permit each judicial district to retain the discretion to address this issue after considering available resources and the needs of the relevant population."

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Medical Center to Pay $883K Settlement over False Claims Charges

Wayne Medical Center, a hospital under the Maury Regional Medical Center umbrella, has agreed to pay $883,451 to the U.S. government to settle False Claims Act allegations self-reported by the hospital regarding the billing for ambulance transport as part of its emergency medical services. By reporting the allegations, Wayne Medical Center potentially saved itself thousands of dollars in fines, in addition to a costly investigation. The Nashville Business Journal has the story.

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Court Rejects Medicare Challenge, Considers Class Action Limits

The U.S. Supreme Court this week turned away a challenge from former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and other Social Security recipients who say they have the right to reject Medicare in favor of continuing health coverage from private insurers. The justices did not comment in letting the federal appeals court ruling stand, reports The Memphis Daily News. Also this week, the court considered what limitations could be placed on class-action lawsuits. The issue is whether plaintiff lawyers reduce estimates of the damages they seek or use procedural loopholes to keep cases in state court, where according to Justice Antonin Scalia, “generous juries” and “very favorable judges” can be common. The justices appeared receptive to the argument that lawyers artificially lower the amount of money at stake to keep suits in state courts, reports the Washington Post.

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Pharmacy Blames Cleaning Company for Meningitis Outbreak

The Boston Globe reports that the New England Compounding Center -- the pharmacy linked to the nationwide meningitis outbreak -- is attempting to get its cleaning contractor to take responsibility for problems in its factory. The firm, UniFirst, acknowledges that a subsidiary helped clean portions of the pharmacy’s cleanroom facility, but a spokesperson called the claims “unfounded and without merit.”

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HCA Hires Former Bass Partner

Health care law expert Scott Noonan of Bass Berry & Sims has resigned in order to assume the role of vice president and operations counsel at HCA on Jan. 7, the Nashville Post reports. Noonan replaces Steve Clifton who occupied the chief legal position for more than 18 years.

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Attorneys Request Consolidation of Meningitis Lawsuits

At least 50 lawsuits in nine states have been filed against the New England Compounding Center, (NECC) the Massachusetts pharmacy that supplied tainted steroid injections resulting in more than 500 illnesses and 37 deaths from fungal meningitis. To streamline the process, attorneys on both sides are asking for multidistrict legislation in which a single judge will preside over the pretrial and discovery phases for all of the federal lawsuits, but the each suit would eventually be returned to judges in their original district for trial. The Jackson Sun has the story.

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GOP Supports Gov. Haslam's Health Exchange Decision

Despite regular opposition to expanding the role of the federal government, most Tennessee Republicans support Gov. Haslam’s decision to reject a state-run health insurance exchange in favor of a federally-run program, the Chattanooga Times Free press reports. After Haslam’s announcement Monday, there were no recriminations for his deference to the federal government. However, a statewide poll conducted by Vanderbilt University found that 53 percent of the 829 respondents favored a state-run exchange versus the 33 percent who did not.

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Tennessee Turns to Feds for Health Exchange

Gov. Bill Haslam said today he will let the federal government set up a health insurance exchange in the state, rather than establish a separate state-run system. Haslam made his remarks during a meeting of the Nashville Rotary Club. In explaining his decision, Haslam said there is still a lot of uncertainty about how a state exchange would work and that draft regulations he has seen led him to conclude there would be little flexibility or autonomy for the state-run systems. The Nashville Business Journal has details.

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Tensions Mount over Health Care Exchange

State House Republican Majority Leader Gerald McCormick sounded off Monday against a possible state-run insurance exchange under the federal health care overhaul, according to WPLN. That’s at odds with Gov. Bill Haslam, who has hinted he might prefer the state option. By contrast, McCormick argues there’s too much fine print still waiting to be written. “At this point I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance of that happening. We’re not going to set up a state exchange unless we really have some detailed information on it and it becomes favorable for the state of Tennessee to do so in a way that cannot be reversed. And I just don’t see that happening based on past experience with the federal government.”

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Haslam Delays Decision on State Health Care Exchange

Gov. Bill Haslam announced today that he is postponing a decision on whether Tennessee will create its own insurance exchange or let the federal government do it, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. Haslam is taking advantage of the month-long deadline extension the Obama administration granted upon Rebublican governors’ request.

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Catholic Nonprofits Sue over Contraceptive Mandate

Some Catholic nonprofit organizations in Nashville are asking a federal judge to prevent them from having to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees as mandated in the Affordable Care Act, the Tennessean reports. Villa Maria Manor, Mary Queen of Angels and the Saint Mary Villa Child Development Center are three of the plaintiffs in particular who are seeking a safe harbor period during which the mandate would not be enforced for some religious nonprofits while officials revise it to try to accommodate their concerns. 

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TennBarU Offers CLE on the Affordable Care Act for General Practitioners

The election is over, and implementation of the Affordable Care Act is now very real and very near. Your clients and your firm have little time to grasp the fundamental changes that will be taking place in health care over the next 13 months as governments, insurance companies, health care providers and employers make the changes called for in the law. On Dec. 7, TennBar U will present a program that will help you get up to speed on the Affordable Care Act and help you serve your clients. Sessions include an overview of the Affordable Care Act, how to advise your small to mid-sixe business owner, a session on what lawyers need to do for law firm management, and answers to the top 10 questions your clients will ask.

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Tenn. Lawyers Head to D.C. for Meningitis Hearings

Linda Lovelace, widow of Judge Eddie C. Lovelace who died in September after being exposed to tainted steroid injections in Nashville, has been invited to testify at the congressional hearings in Washington, D.C. against the New England Compounding Center that is accused of shipping thousands of vials of contaminated drugs across the country. Lawyer Mark P. Chalos with Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, along with another attorney and client, were invited to the hearings as well. Chalos’ firm represents several affected families across the county, including at least four in Tennessee. The Tennessean has the story.

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Tennessee Faces Deadline on Health Exchanges

State officials appear divided on whether to create a Tennessee health insurance exchange program or leave the job to the federal government. With a deadline for the decision approaching next week, Gov. Bill Haslam tells WPLN News that he’d rather the state run its own program, but GOP leaders in the legislature may have other ideas.

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Lipscomb Doc Series Explores Health Care Issues

Lipscomb University’s HumanDocs Film Series will present “The Waiting Room” Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. in Shamblin Theatre on campus. The film explores the nation’s health care system by weaving together the stories of patients and caregivers at a public hospital in Oakland. A panel discussion featuring Tennessee Justice Center director Gordon Bonnyman, medical student Italo Brown and veteran emergency room physician Harold Smith will take place before the screening.