News

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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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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