health care

Lee announces membership of Health Care Modernization Task Force

Gov. Bill Lee welcomes delegates to a summit on economically distressed counties in Linden on Aug. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has announced the membership of his Health Care Modernization Task Force. Here is who’s on it:

Co-chairs:

  • Stuart McWhorter, commissioner of the state Department of Finance and Administration.
  • Bill Carpenter, former chairman and CEO of LifePoint Health.

Task force membership:

  • James Bailey, professor and director of the Center for Health System Improvement at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
  • Mike Carrigan, chief administrator of Premier Medical Group.
  • Brian DeBusk, first vice-chairman on the board of trustees if Lincoln Memorial University.
    James Hildreth, president of Meharry Medical C0llege.
  • Melanie Keller, CEO Meritan Inc.
  • Mary Kiger, executive director of TN Charitable Care Network.
  • Kathie Krause, chief nursing officer at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.
  • Shantelle Leatherwood, CEO of Christ Community Health Services.
  • Alan Levine, chairman, president, and CEO of Ballad Health.
  • Jim King, family physician.
  • Kim Parker, director of inpatient and crisis services, Pathways Behavioral Health Services.
  • Jeff Tibbals, Scott County Mayor.
  • Michael Ugwueke, president and CEO of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare.
  • Andrea Willis, chief medical officer, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
  • Randy Wykoff, dean and professor of the College of Public Health at  East Tennessee State University.

Lawmaker members:

  • Senate Speaker Pro Tem Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin.
  • Senate Finance Chair Bo Watson, R-Hixson.
  • Senate Commerce Chair Paul Bailey, R-Sparta.
  • Senator Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis.
  • House Utilities Subcommittee Chair Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville.
  • House Insurance Committee Chair Robin Smith, R-Hixson.
  • House Business Subcommittee Chair Ron Travis, R-Dayton.
  • Rep. John DeBerry Jr., D-Memphis.

Lee administration gives first look at findings from health care meetings

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter has written an op-ed for The Tennessean about what he has found out during a series of closed-door meetings about the state health care in the state. Details of Gov. Bill Lee’s health care modernization task force are expected to be released later this week.

The placement of the op-ed is curious given that the paper’s own news staff was thwarted in its efforts to cover the meetings.

McWhorter said the meetings involved the heads of eight state agencies and private sector experts to “explore improving rural health, reducing chronic conditions, improving transparency and helping to foster innovation.” The discussions are apparently separate from the Medicaid block grant proposal that was panned in a series of public hearings last week.

McWhorter warned that there’s “no silver bullet,” but gave this summary of what was found:

  • First, we heard that transportation is a significant barrier to care. Lack of transportation keeps some Tennesseans from having access to a primary care physician or out-patient services. This inevitably leads to medical problems becoming unmanageable, requiring emergency transportation and services for conditions that could have been managed better.
  • Second, technology, including telehealth, is an underutilized tool in addressing access issues, especially in rural areas of our state. This technology is already having significant positive impacts for other industries. For example, telehealth has enabled schools and law enforcement to provide health care and better manage behavioral health issues which resulted in fewer school absences and reduced jail time.
  • Third, rural areas are hit harder by these issues than other parts of the state, specifically in regard to lack of providers. Tennessee, not unlike other states, continually struggles to attract providers, which can lead to hospital and physician practice closures and, subsequently, a lack of available care within reasonable proximity to Tennesseans.
  • Fourth, addressing social determinants of health could help foster healthier generations. Such efforts can aid in reducing costs, particularly for consumers during a national transition from fee-for-service to value-based care, but also for taxpayers as some costly medical services are preventable by introducing basic lifestyle changes.
  • The fifth and final theme touched on the market challenges related to medical billing. This issue is complex and includes some of the largest facets of our health care system. There is no quick solution for this issue, but it is one our state will need to have a detailed conversation about in the months and years ahead.

What’s happening with the Medicaid block grants? Lee still ‘exploring’

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters on March 19, 2019, about his proposal to introduce an education savings account program in Tennessee. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is assembling a Health Care Modernization Task Force, but appears not to have decided whether to pursue a Medicaid block grant from the federal government, the Daily Memphian reports.

Lee told the publication that his office is putting together the task force made up of health care industry members, providers, and patients to come up with ways to cut costs and “increase access and affordability for everybody.”

The governor is still “exploring the idea” of block grants, he said at a recent event in Shelbyville.

“If we pursue [a block grant], we’ll be the first state in the country to do it,” Lee said. “And that is to take federal funding for our TennCare-Medicaid population and spend it in a way that allows us to do it more effectively in Tennessee than the way the federal government tells us we have to.”

 

House Minority Leader Karen Camper, who served on former Speaker Beth Harwell’s 3-Star Healthy Task Force, questioned the point of another group to study the issue.

“Now we are in a different General Assembly, with new leaders and a new governor. Not only have the players changed, but we are also working in the shadows of the Medicaid block grant waiver, which was passed by our General Assembly. We do not yet know the consequences of this legislation and how the federal government will respond to this waiver request,” she told the Daily Memphian.

 

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An estimated 452,000 Tennesseans are uninsured in 2018, or 6.7% of the state’s total population. That compares with the 408,000 people, or 6.1%, who were uninsured in 2017. That followed a low of 5.6% in 2016. That state’s uninsured rate hovered near the 10% mark between 2006 and 2013, before the Affordable Care Act went into effect.

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Faison criticized for medical marijuana support by GOP challenger in House District 11

In a “spirited and at times heated debate,” House Government Operations Chairman Jeremy Faison was criticized on several matters by Greg Fodness, who is challenging him in in the House District 11 Republican primary, reports the Newport Plain Talk. One hot topic was Faison’s advocacy of legalizing medical marijuana in recent legislative sessions.

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People are “flocking” to the first hemp dispensary in Tennessee, which recently opened in Murfreesboro, says WTVF TV in a report that seems almost an advertisement for cannabidiol oil (CBD) sales – legalized by the state legislature two years ago with little fanfare and previously peddled on a mostly incidental basis within the state. Such sales led to a big bust in Rutherford County earlier this year, but all charges were dismissed after law enforcement officials realized candy contained CBD derived from hemp, not its illegal cousin plant marijuana, is legal in Tennessee and TBI labs confirmed that was the stuff being sold.

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TN whistleblowers credited in $30M settlement of federal fraud complaint against nursing home chain

A nursing home chain with more than two dozen facilities in Tennessee has settled a $230 million Medicare fraud complaint with an agreement to pay a $30 million settlement, reports WPLN. Two women who worked at one of the facilities in Columbia are credited as key whistleblowers and will get $6 million.

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Roe balks at backing Trump administration move to eliminate mandated health insurance coverage of pre-existing conditions

Many Republican congressmen – including at least one member of the Tennessee delegation — are unhappy that the Trump administration has moved to eliminate a provision in the Obamacare law that assures health insurance coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, reports Politico.

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TennCare backs off initiative aimed at making doctors more cost conscious

After months of resisting pressure from doctors, Tennessee’s Medicaid program, known as TennCare, is slowing down an initiative meant to make physicians more cost conscious, reports WPLN. The Tennessee Medical Association has complained about the so-called “episodes of care” payment model since its inception, though doctors initially cooperated with state officials in designing the program.

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