Capitol Hill Update from State Representative David Byrd

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   The 112th General Assembly has adjourned

   General Assembly ensures Covid-19 vaccines remain voluntary

   Legislation aiming to ensure Covid-19 vaccines remain voluntary passed the House and heads to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk for his signature. House Bill 575 will ensure that medical information reflecting the status of a person’s vaccination cannot be required by any state entities in Tennessee. The legislation prohibits a state or local governmental official, entity, department or agency from mandating a private business to require a “vaccine passport” or proof of a Covid-19 vaccine as a condition for entering their premises or using their services.

   The bill also removes authority from county boards of health to enforce and adopt rules and regulations regarding Covid-19, preserving their role as an advisory body to the elected county mayor. It defines quarantine in Tennessee law as the limitation of a person’s freedom of movement, isolation, or preventing or restricting access to premises upon which the person, cause or source of a disease may be found for a period of time as may be necessary to confirm or establish a diagnosis, determine the cause or source of a disease or prevent the spread of a disease.

   Tennessee’s CON process improves health care access and cost

   Reforms to Tennessee’s Certificate of Need (CON) program were approved by both chambers of the General Assembly. House Bill 948 seeks to eliminate bureaucratic red tape by making the CON process quicker, easier and less expensive to improve access and cost of health care services in Tennessee. It reduces CON regulation of certain facilities and services, eliminates protectionist aspects of the CON process and creates greater regulatory flexibility. The reform legislation comes as a result of a two-year collaboration from various stakeholders and legislators in a joint House and Senate working group that focused on benefiting patients.

   Hospitals and health care facilities that want to locate or expand its capacity are required to obtain a legal document known as a CON. Whether it is the number of hospital beds it makes available or the types of imaging it can conduct, the facility must apply to the state’s Health Services and Development Agency (HSDA) for permission through the CON process.  Certain CON regulations would be reduced or eliminated for certain facilities and services.  Economically distressed counties which do not currently have a hospital would be completely exempt from CON regulations, making it easier for health care companies to offer new health services to patients in those counties. Non-pediatric MRI services and PET scan services would also no longer be regulated by CON in counties with a population above 175,000.  Because of an increasing focus and need for mental health services in Tennessee, mental health hospitals would no longer be subject to CON regulations as well. The legislation further eliminates protectionist aspects of CON by reducing the power competitors have over new applicants and holding CON-holders more accountable.

   Bill aims to increase state’s physicians in rural communities

   A bill designed to increase the number of primary care physicians in Tennessee’s rural communities was approved by the General Assembly. Current workforce projections show Tennessee will experience a doctor shortage of 1,050 by 2025.  House Bill 443 aims to curb the shortage by establishing residency opportunities focusing on family practice, general pediatrics, internal medicine and psychiatry to provide medical and behavioral health services in Tennessee’s underserved and distressed rural counties.  The residencies will be open to all graduates of University of Tennessee schools, Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

   Residents will be approved by the National Accreditation Agency for Graduate Medical Education (GME).  The program requires the residencies be open to all qualified candidates and filled through the existing matching process employed by the GME.  In addition, the bill establishes residencies through Lincoln Memorial University in Claiborne County which offers osteopathic medicine instruction.  The recently approved 2021-22 fiscal year budget provides $5.5 million to fund the residencies, which will be distributed across the state.  The Tennessee Department of Health and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) will oversee the programs.

   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.