Legislative Update from State Senator Joey Hensley: Legislation Effective July 1st, 2020-Part 2

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   The 111th General Assembly adjourned on the morning of June 19th after overcoming many obstacles this session. I am proud to say that despite the destruction and devastation of COVID-19, we passed a balanced budget and other key pieces of legislation that will benefit Tennesseans across this state. Below is a continued list of some of those bills that become effective on July 1st. Please reach out to my office if I can be of assistance to you. It is an honor to continue to serve District 28.

   New law encourages lower health care costs through Association Health Plans – Legislation which aims to lower premiums and overall health care costs for small businesses through Association Health Plans (AHP) was approved this year. The new law aligns Tennessee’s AHP laws with new federal rules put into place by President Trump’s administration to help small businesses purchase affordable, high quality health insurance as a result of increased flexibility. 

   AHPs allow small businesses and entrepreneurs to band together with other businesses to purchase insurance with the bargaining power of a big company. The plans are similar to comprehensive large group or self-insured insurance policies offered by most large employers, covering the same types of treatments and procedures.

   Since 2003, average family premiums for Tennessee small employers have increased over 75 percent, while at the same time deductibles have spiked. As a result, almost 30,000 fewer workers at small businesses have private insurance coverage due to the decreased affordability.   

   Legislation expands Health Care Empowerment Act to all medical professionals — State lawmakers voted this year to expand Tennessee’s Health Care Empowerment Act to allow all licensed medical professionals, instead of only physicians, to use direct medical care agreements without regulation by the insurance laws of this state. It seeks to increase access to care and empower patients regarding their healthcare decisions. 

    The Health Care Empowerment Act is designed to give healthcare consumers who are struggling to pay the increasing costs of premiums or who have been priced out of the market, an affordable option to contract directly with their physician for health care services. The new law holds that a person seeking medical care outside of an insurance plan, TennCare or Medicare programs and chooses to pay out of pocket, does not forfeit their coverage plan. 

   Legislation seeking to expand access to dental care advances – A bill to help nonprofit dental clinics provide free care to more Tennesseans in need passed during the 2020 legislative session. It expands the maximum number of dental hygienists a dentist can oversee at a nonprofit provider of free mobile clinics from three to ten. This will allow organizations, like Mission of Mercy and Remote Area Medical Clinics which provide free dental services from volunteer dentists and hygienists, to take care of as many people as possible. Across the state these clinics have had to turn away volunteer dental hygienists because they do not have enough dentists to oversee them.

   General Assembly votes to continue funds to support hospitals, nursing homes, ambulance services – State lawmakers approved three bills before the March recess critical to the operations of Tennessee’s hospitals, nursing homes and ambulance services by extending assessments used to draw down federal matching funds. This includes the Tennessee Hospital Assessment Act, which raises $600 million in state funds. The action allows Tennessee to receive $1.1 billion in federal matching funds, for a total of $1.7 billion for the state’s TennCare program.   

   The assessment, which has been in effect since 2010, provides hospitals a portion of their unreimbursed TennCare costs. In addition to the reduction in payments to hospitals and health professionals, a few examples of programs that would be affected without the assessment are: critical access hospitals, the Graduate Medical Education program, x-rays, physician office procedures, various therapies, and the enrollment cap for the medically needy.     

   Similarly, legislation that provides funds essential for operating nursing homes in Tennessee was adopted. The measure raises funds allocated to the Nursing Home Assessment Trust Fund by $134.6 million, allowing Tennessee to draw down $259.8 million in needed federal matching funds.