News

Haslam Still in Talks with Feds Over Medicaid Expansion

Gov. Bill Haslam continues to talk with President Barack Obama’s administration since his decision last month not to accept federal funding at this time for an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program. He was in Washington, D.C., last week to meet with federal health officials about a possible compromise, the Memphis Daily News reports. Haslam is not putting any kind of timeline on the talks saying, “I’m working hard to get it done as soon as we can. I honestly don’t know if that’s a month or a year. The new plan comes into play in January 2014. Whether we could have something by then, I honestly don’t know.”

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Medical-Legal Partnership Marks First Anniversary

A medical-legal partnership between Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) and Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga recently marked its one-year anniversary. LAET reports that the program has served 100 low-income patients and provided $660,855 worth of legal services since its inception. Lawyers have helped clients with conservatorships, foreclosures, landlord/tenant issues and insurance benefits. Medical-legal partnerships focus on improving the health and wellbeing of vulnerable patients by addressing their unmet legal needs and removing legal barriers that impede health. For more information on the program, contact LAET’s Chattanooga office at (423) 756-4013.

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Health Department Analyzes Pharmacy Bill Loophole

A bill that would create a loophole so compounding companies from all states could bypass patient-specific prescription requirements during drug shortages is being neither endorsed nor opposed by the Tennessee Health Department, the Tennessean reports. The proposal, which passed the Senate last week, would allow health care providers to obtain compounded drugs without having to identify a patient in cases where a product “is not commercially available.” The state’s chief medical officer Dr. David Reagan said the agency recognizes the difficulty of balancing measures to prevent another fungal meningitis outbreak with efforts to ease drug shortages. “You’ve got competing priorities here,” Reagan said. “You have an unprecedented number of drug shortages in this country and in this state. It is really difficult to understand how pervasive this has become. It is a real need and a real issue that is occurring at the same time as this other real need and issue about the sterility and safety of these compounded products.” The House has yet to schedule a vote. 

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One Judge to Handle All Local Meningitis Suits

Davidson County Circuit Judge Joe P. Binkley Jr. has ordered that three pending and any similar future local cases involving the fungal meningitis outbreak to be assigned to him only. In a one-paragraph order, Binkly granted a request from lawyers for the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center that all pending and future meningitis suits against their clients be assigned to a single judge. The Tennessean has the story.

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Clergy Parallel Bible Story to Support Medicaid Expansion

A left-leaning clergy group delivered baskets of loaves and paper fish to each Tennessee legislator on Monday in order to show support for expanding the state’s Medicaid program, NPR reports. Religious advocates gathered to deliver the baskets in an attempted biblical parallel to the miracle of feeding the 5,000. Gov. Bill Haslam has not yet said yes or no the expansion. “That’s a pretty clear command to have concern for the ‘least of these,’” Haslam said. “But we also have a responsibility to make sure that’s something that’s affordable for the state, not just now but 10 years from now.”

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Memphis Lawyer Accused in Alleged Insurance Scam

William L. Hendricks, a former partner in the Memphis law firm Evans-Petree PC has been arrested on charges of theft, conspiracy to commit theft and money laundering in connection with a bogus health-insurance operation in Springfield. According to the Tennessee Attorney General’s office, Hendricks, Springfield businessman Bart S. Posey Sr. and his former business partner, Richard “Rick” Bachman Jr. of Texas, are charged with the theft of $225,000 in insurance premiums that came from some of the victims of a nationwide health-insurance scam that netted more than $20 million from about 12,000 victims. The Tennessean has the story.

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Lawyers and Doctors Partner to Help Patients

Lawyers and doctors are finding some common ground in clinics and hospitals across the country, according to NPR. In an Ohio women’s clinic, doctors are studying how adding lawyers to the health care team can help improve patient care. Meredith Watts is an attorney for Community Legal Aid, a nonprofit that gives free legal help to low-income people, but works out of the clinic. Watt’s role on the team is to help solve issues outside a doctor’s control -- such as anxiety over an eviction -- that might affect a patient’s health. "It's exciting to be able to do what we think of as preventative law, rather than always being crisis intervention because you can help something not happen, before it becomes a crisis.” explained attorney Marie Curry who runs the medical-legal partnership.

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Appeals Court Decision May Slow Health Care Fraud Prosecution

A federal appeals court has thrown out nearly $94 million worth of Medicare and Medicaid fraud cases won by U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin’s office in Nashville, possibly restricting how federal prosecutors can pursue health-care fraud cases in the future, the Tennessean reports. The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision on Monday reversed an $11.1 million judgment against a Georgia medical company with three local clinics accused by federal prosecutors of Medicare fraud. The reversal comes just months after an $82.6 million judgment against three other local companies was also dismissed.

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Haslam Says 'No' for Now to Medicaid Expansion

Expressing concern that the federal Medicaid expansion would prove too costly once subsidies run out and would hamper creative approaches to cost savings, Gov. Bill Haslam today said the state will not join the program for now. However, he left the door open for a reversal if federal officials address his concerns, The Tennessean reports. In a speech to state legislators, Haslam also said he wants to pursue a state plan for expanding health care coverage but has not received federal approval for that approach.

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Saint Thomas Blames FDA for Meningitis Outbreak

Lawyers for Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center are blaming officials with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state officials for last year's fatal outbreak of fungal meningitis, The Tennessean reports. The center says the FDA failed to make findings available that showed the New England Compounding Center -- which supplied the tainted injections -- was out of compliance with regulations. It also argues that the Tennessee Health Department was responsible for any delays in notifying patients of the outbreak.

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Legal Aid Receives Medical-Legal Partnership Grant

The Legal Aid Society has received a $40,388 grant from Baptist Healing Trust to further the groups’ medical-legal partnership in Middle Tennessee. The funds will allow Legal Aid to provide free, direct legal service to low-income patients and their families receiving treatment at two Nashville clinics – the United Neighborhood Health Services Clinic and the Vanderbilt University’s student-run Shade Tree Clinic. It also will fund training and education to help health care workers identify patients’ need for legal assistance related to their illnesses. The agency announced the news today.

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Court Reinstates Damages in Assisted Living Death

The Tennessee Supreme Court reinstated a jury verdict against the management company of a Shelbyville assisted living center in the death of an 83-year-old resident. Records indicate the woman died from a ruptured colon after a nurse improperly administered an enema. The Supreme Court reinstated $300,000 in compensatory damages after finding that the center was understaffed and that the management company knew about it but did not fix it. A $5 million punitive damages award approved by the jury was sent back to the lower court for review.

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St. Thomas Clinic Wants Meningitis Lawsuits Consolidated

Attorneys for St. Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center, where dozens of patients were injected with a meningitis-tainted steroid, filed a motion in Davidson County Circuit Court asking that the presiding judge assign the current and future lawsuits to a single circuit or chancery court judge, the Tennessean reports. The motion was filed on behalf of the Howell Allen Clinic, a codefendant in the two recent suits. The move for consolidation follows recent action merging cases in federal court stemming from the same fungal meningitis outbreak, which caused 14 deaths among Tennessee patients and sickened more than 700 people nationwide.

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Health Care Compact Fails in House Committee

A measure that would allow Tennessee to approach Congress about forming the state’s own health care system has failed a second consecutive year, the Memphis Daily News reports. The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, failed 9-9 in the House Insurance and Banking Committee. The bill would have allowed Tennessee to join an interstate health care compact in seeking other options. Opponents said it is unnecessary and could hurt the state’s other health initiatives such as Tennessee’s federal match for TennCare and the expanded Medicaid program

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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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