Capitol Hill Update from Representative David Byrd September 16, 2020

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   Legislation expands access to dental care – A bill to help nonprofit dental clinics provide free care to more Tennesseans in need passed during the 2020 legislative session. Public Chapter 724 expands the maximum number of dental hygienists a dentist can oversee at a nonprofit provider of free mobile clinics from three to ten. This legislation 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.

   Legislation gives health boards more tools to protect patients – The General Assembly enacted legislation giving health-related boards more tools to take swift action to limit the authority of health care providers who have been disciplined in other states.  Public Chapter 594 allows all health-related boards to restrict licensure of potentially dangerous practitioners to protect patients when there is a contested hearing. This legislation also provides health boards with new options beyond only suspension, which can be helpful for rural communities with a limited number of physicians.

   General Assembly votes to continue funds to support hospitals, nursing homes, ambulance services – State lawmakers also 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. Public Chapter 642 includes the Tennessee Hospital Assessment Act, which raises $600 million in state funds. The legislation 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 hospital; the Graduate Medical Education program, x-rays, physician office procedures, various therapies, and the enrollment cap for the medically needy.     

   Similarly, Public Chapter 644 that provides funds essential for operating nursing homes in Tennessee was adopted. This legislation 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.  

   As always, I am truly humbled and honored to be your voice on Capitol Hill. If there is ever any issue I can assist with, please reach out to my office by calling 615-741-2190 or emailing me at rep.david.byrd@capitol.tn.gov. 

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