News

Rural Tennessee Hospital Faces Potential Closure

The only hospital in Jamestown and Fentress County, Regional Medical Center, is struggling to remain open despite being purchased last year by Florida-based lab company, Rennova Health, Modern Healthcare reports. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) learned of various problems faced by the hospital when the state investigated staff complaints over not getting paid as well as the electricity being turned off. A CMS inspection in February found the hospital owed over $3 million to 165 vendors, and 11 had stopped providing services, including the food services vendor and anesthesia provider. CMS threatened revoking Medicare billing privileges unless the hospital fixed the deficiencies. Fentress County’s ambulance services are still being diverted to hospitals in other cities, around 40 minutes to an hour away. Rennova also owns two other hospitals in Tennessee, including purchasing the newly renamed Big South Fork Medical Center out of bankruptcy in 2017 and Jellico Community Hospital in March.

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Casada to Resign as House Speaker

House Speaker Glen Casada recently announced he will resign his leadership position in the coming weeks, the Tennessean reports. The decision comes on the heels of a meeting of Republican leaders, which resulted in a vote of no confidence in Casada's leadership. "When I return to town on June 3rd, I will meet with caucus leadership to determine the best date for me to resign as speaker so that I can facilitate a smooth transition," Casada said in a statement. Casada has served as House Speaker for four months.
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Insurance Commissioner McPeak to Return to Private Sector

Tennessee Commerce & Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak is leaving state government next month to pursue private-sector opportunities, the Nashville Post reports. McPeak has served in the role since 2011, when then-Gov. Bill Haslam appointed her. She was previously with law firm Burr & Forman and before that was the executive director of the Kentucky Office of Insurance.

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Your TBA Free CLE Credits Expire June 30

TBA members receive three hours of free CLE programming. Your credits expire June 30 for the current bar year. You may apply them to any available course here or donate them. Members can use this credit to cover all or part of the cost of live programs or on any online CLE program. (The course does not have to take place by June 30.)
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Tennessee Poised to be First State to Request Medicaid Block Grant

Tennessee is on track to be the first state to request its Medicaid funding be provided in a lump sum payment, Politico reports. This comes after the Tennessee House passed legislation — HB1280/SB1428 — that directs the governor, through the commissioner of finance and administration, to request the block grant funding from the centers for Medicare and Medicaid services, with the appropriations indexed for inflation and population growth. The proposal faces an uphill battle, as U.S. Congressional Democrats have vowed opposition to such measures and the Trump administration is still trying to determine if it can legally provide states with this option.

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Congressional Budget Office Releases Report on Single-Payer Health Care System

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) last week released a 30-page study exploring the pros and cons of a national single-payer health care system, The New York Times reports. An anomaly amongst other CBO reports, this analysis did not offer any cost estimates for the transition, omitting any speculation of a price tag other than the nebulous declaration that “government spending on health care would increase substantially.” Congressional Democrats have introduced several bills in an effort to lay the groundwork for such a plan and most Democratic presidential candidates also support a single-payer system. The CBO said that it may provide firm estimates for a proposal if current legislation sees progress in various committees.

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Groups Sue State Over Bill Targeting Voter Registration

A coalition of voting rights advocates has filed a lawsuit against the state over a recently passed bill aiming criminal charges and fines at voter registration groups, the Nashville Scene reports. The group — headed up by the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the NAACP — filed the suit on behalf of a group of Tennessee organizations that engage in voter registration activity. Kristin Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee, called it "one of the most restrictive voter suppression measures that we have seen this year."  
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Lawmakers Move to Fully Fund Katie Beckett Waiver

The Tennessee Senate on Monday moved to fully fund the Katie Beckett waiver program that will provide health insurance for disabled children, even if their families do not financially qualify for Medicaid, The Tennessean reports. Initially, the Senate proposed funding at $15.6 million, just over half of the estimated cost of the program. Lawmakers expressed concerns regarding House budget funding, which proposed paying for the initiative through expanded online sales tax. The Senate now agreed to fund the full $27 million using other revenue sources.

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Some Gold Star Families See Tax Increase on Survivor Benefits

After the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017, some Gold Star families saw taxes on their survivor benefits more than double, CNN reports. Under the law, children of deceased service members that were previously taxed at the parents’ rate now fall into a new tax bracket known as the “Kiddie Tax,” which has a rate of 37 percent. According to the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a nonprofit that assists the families of fallen soldiers, the bracket is to prevent wealthy families from hiding money in their children's names by taxing 'unearned income' and is intended as a trust and estate tax.

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Senate Budget: Cut Professional Privilege Tax, Partially Fund Program for Disabled Children

After speculation over whether the state Senate would agree to fund a Medicaid waiver program to provide medical treatment for disabled children, the upper chamber has announced its plan: Pay for part of it, while using additional funds to reduce the state's professional privilege tax. The Tennessean reports that the Senate's budget allocates $15.6 million for the waiver program, funding that would cover roughly 300 of the state's 3,300 children who could benefit from it. The upper chamber is calling for $23.4 million in cuts to the state's professional privilege tax, reducing it from $400 to $300.
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5 New Job Postings on TBA’s Joblink

See who is hiring in Tennessee. Recent job postings this month offer opportunities in litigation, real estate, health law and more. See full listings or post positions in your firm on TBA’s Joblink.
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TBA Convention Kicks Off TOMORROW!

The big week is finally upon us: The Tennessee Bar Association’s Annual Convention begins tomorrow, June 12. This year’s Convention is chock-full of even better programming, exhibits and fun than last year! Look forward to:

  • Free Access to 9 Hours of CLE, including the Bench Bar Program, co-sponsored by the Tennessee Judicial Conference
  • Opening welcome reception
  • Bench Bar Luncheon (featuring keynote speaker, Ken Starr)
  • Law School and General Breakfasts
  • Lawyers Luncheon (featuring special honor for Sen. Lamar Alexander)
  • Thursday night joint reception sponsored with TLAW and TABL
  • Thursday night Dinner/Dance Party featuring My So-Called Band
  • Friday night TBALL/YLD Party
  • Access to activities and programming designed for well-being including massages, contemplative space and more.
  • Access to TBA's sponsorship hall to meet with exhibitors, participate in our special TBA Wellness Corner and win prizes.
• QUESTIONS: Just email convention@tnbar.org to get help.
 
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Tennessee Department of Health Seeks Deputy General Counsel

The Tennessee Department of Health (TDH), Office of General Counsel (OGC) is seeking a new deputy general counsel to serve as the manager of the downtown office of OGC and who will be responsible for the supervision of three attorneys and two administrative staff members. The deputy general counsel will report to the general counsel and perform legal services for the TDH Commissioner and other offices and divisions located within TDH, including the Office of the State Medical Examiner, the Office of Vital Records, the Division of Family Health and Wellness, and the Division of Communicable Diseases and Emergency Preparedness. You can learn more about this position and other employment opportunities by visiting TBA Joblink.

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Volunteers Needed to Assist in Review of Legal Handbook for Tennessee Seniors

The TBA Elder Law Section is seeking assistance reviewing an updated edition of the 2019 Legal Handbook for Tennessee Seniors. This resource contains practical information on a wide range of topics, including issues such as applying for Social Security benefits, long-term care considerations and estate planning, as well as completely new sections addressing online security and new health care legislation. Volunteers will aid in reviewing the resource for errors prior to release. If you are able to assist with this important initiative, please email Elder Law Section Coordinator Jarod Word.

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Federal Agencies Break Up $1.2 Billion Medicare Fraud Scheme

Federal officials on Tuesday announced breaking up a $1.2 billion Medicare scheme that preyed on elderly and disabled patients, The New York Times reports. Investigators say the racket that involved the prescription of unnecessary support braces is one of the largest health care frauds in United States history. The defendants — made up of both medical professionals and telemarketers — would allegedly contact Medicare beneficiaries and coerce them into getting free or low-cost back, shoulder, wrist and knee braces that were then paid for by the organization. The defendants are also accused of laundering the money received through shell companies, then using it to buy items such as exotic cars, yachts and luxury real estate.

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Trump Administration Punts on Medicare Policy Changes

The Trump administration is punting on premium spikes for Medicare, seeking to delay policy changes until after his 2020 reelection bid, The Washington Post reports. An up to 19 percent increase is expected with the president’s plans to do away with Medicare rebates paid to firms that manage pharmacy insurance by drug makers. Proponents of health care reform have long derided these rebates as a kickbacks and an incentive to drive up the cost of medications. Pharmacy benefit managers, which will be directly affected by the plans to halt rebates, maintain that they stabilize premiums and argue that nixing them will drive up premiums, which the administration's actuaries confirmed. Long lead times to put the plan into place was cited as the reason for the delay.

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Bill Allowing Unlicensed 'Natural Hair Styling' Heads to Gov. Lee for Signature

Legislation allowing unlicensed “natural hair styling” passed the House of Representatives last night despite opposition from Memphis lawmakers, The Daily Memphian reports. The legislation will now head to the governor's office for his signature. Rep. Antonio Parkinson was one of the opposition voices, saying that he grew up in his mother’s hair salon and witnessed “atrocities” done to people who visited unlicensed hair professionals. However, despite efforts to add amendments to the bill, sponsor Rep. Mary Littleton stood firm against changes and it passed along party lines.
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Shelby Judge Reprimanded For Delayed Rulings

Shelby County Circuit Court Judge Robert Weiss has been reprimanded for unreasonable delays in rulings on two cases, the Daily Memphian reports. The public reprimand, issued in January by the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct, found that Weiss took up to five years to make a ruling in one case and three years in another. Reprimands of this nature from the board are somewhat rare, with Weiss being the only judge to receive one so far this year.

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Help4TNDay Kicks Off Saturday

Tennessee lawyers are invited to participate in Help4TNDay activities throughout the month of April. Events will bring attention to the ongoing need for free and low-cost legal services and highlight the groups that provide these services to disadvantaged Tennesseans. Opportunities include volunteering to help clients in need through Tennessee Free Legal Answers (TFLA) or at a local legal clinic. The events kick-off this Saturday with a statewide virtual legal clinic, where attorneys across the state will answer questions on TFLA from noon to 2 p.m. Simultaneously, the TBA will host an on-site TFLA Clinic and Luncheon in Nashville. To participate in the TBA event, contact Liz Todaro. Help4TNDay is a joint effort by the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission, the Administrative Office of the Courts, Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services and the Tennessee Bar Association. 
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Knox News Story Draws Attention to Unlicensed Caregivers

A website that parents can use to find caregivers for their children has instituted a formal vetting process following stories of three children who died under supervision in unlicensed daycares, The Knoxville News Sentinel reports. The website, Care.com, became the center of an investigation by the paper when it discovered that unlicensed providers were using the site to solicit business. Knox News compiled a list of 52 caregivers from the site. DHS verified that only 22 had valid licenses. Going forward, Care.com says it will screen its clients using criminal databases and the national sex offender registry.

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About 128,000 Children Dropped from TennCare, CoverKids in the Past 2 Years

Almost 128,000 children were dropped from TennCare and its sister program, CoverKids, over the past two years, The Tennessean reports. Between 2016 and January 2019, approximately 1 in 8 children enrolled with the providers were purged from the system, with the agency saying that most were cut because the families did not respond to mandatory renewal forms that were mailed to them. Nashville and Memphis saw cuts of about 14,000 and 22,000 children, respectively. Cheatham County saw the most cuts per capita, with nearly 1 in every 5 enrolled children purged from the programs during that period.

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TennCare Block Grant Bill Moving Through House

Legislation that would allow Gov. Bill Lee to negotiate with the federal government to obtain a federal block grant to supplement TennCare sailed through the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee this week, the Tennessean reports. The bills — HB1280/SB1428 — sponsored by Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, and Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, would make Tennessee the first state to adopt such a measure. As submitted, the law calls for a lump-sum payment from the federal government, with Tennessee given autonomy to decide how to best apply the funds. Lee has signaled his support for the block grant concept despite concerns that he would block the measure out of opposition to Medicaid expansion in the state. The legislation has been referred to the Calendar & Rules Committee for review.
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Byrd Out as Education Subcommittee Chair

Citing bipartisan concerns over the controversy surrounding Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesville, House Speaker Glen Casada has removed him from his chairmanship of an education subcommittee, The Tennessean reports. Byrd faces allegations from women who accused him of sexual misconduct during his time as a high school basketball coach. Casada said his decision was not about the allegations but because the situation had become a distraction. Byrd said Thursday he had no intention of resigning. 
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Purdue Pharma, Oklahoma Reach Settlement, Praised by AG Slatery

Oklahoma has reached a landmark settlement with Purdue Pharma regarding its role in the opioid crisis, The Washington Post reports. This is the first such settlement in the more than 1,600 lawsuits faced by the drug maker, including the case in Tennessee where Knox County Circuit Court Judge Kristi M. Davis struck down Purdue’s motion for dismissal. Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery released a statement praising the action and reaffirmed the state’s commitment to holding Purdue and other manufacturers accountable for possible violations of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. In the Oklahoma settlement, Purdue will pay $102.5 million to establish a new foundation for addiction treatment and research, provide $20 million worth of treatment drugs and cover about $60 million in litigation costs.
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Registration Now Open for TBA Convention in Nashville, June 12-15

The TBA's annual Convention returns to downtown Nashville this summer! Mark your calendars for June 12-15 and prepare for four days of CLE, networking, entertainment and more at the Renaissance Hotel, 611 Commerce Street. Registration is officially open, with early bird rates available until April 30.
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