The Tennessee General Assembly convened on January 14th, 2020 with many important issues to be considered this year. In the last update, I addressed educational issues and improvements that we will cover this year at the legislature. Here is a look into the important issues and legislation that will come before lawmakers this year involving healthcare. I look forward to representing the 28th District again this year.
Improving Access and Quality of Health Care — Health care will be front and center during the 2020 legislative session with a wide variety of important issues to be discussed as lawmakers look for ways to lower costs, increase access, and improve quality. This is in addition to recommendations that could come from Governor Bill Lee’s Health Care Modernization Task Force which was appointed in October to address the state’s major health care issues. The group is discussing ideas to improve the lives of Tennesseans who lack access to quality health care they can afford through innovation, uniting market forces, and addressing community-specific characteristics that contribute to health issues.
Rural Access to Care / Telehealth – Expect greater access to care through telehealth services in Tennessee to be a key issue for lawmakers this year. Telehealth is particularly important to people in rural communities who drive longer distances to receive health care services. Although the General Assembly has made much progress on this issue, expect new proposals to continue the forward momentum, including further expansion of broadband to support the technology. Also expect discussions regarding how telehealth services are billed and credentialed.
Block Grant — State lawmakers will continue efforts to improve access, affordability and quality of health care for Tennesseans in 2020 through innovative legislation. In November 2019, Tennessee became the first state in the nation to submit a block grant waiver to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) under a new law passed by the General Assembly last April. The goal is to provide the state an opportunity to address the specific health care needs of all Tennesseans, while lowering costs and increasing access to patient-centered care. If an agreement is reached with the state and federal government, the plan will come back to Tennessee lawmakers for a final vote during the 2020 legislative session.
TANF – A legislative study group has been appointed to study possible changes to the state’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program (TANF) with their recommendations expected to be a key issue this year. The state has approximately $732 million in unspent funds from the federal block grant program which supports Tennessee’s Families First program. The study group is looking at innovative new ways to assist those served by the program, while responsibly maintaining funds needed for any future downturn in the economy. Expect funding projects to include proposals for housing, family and stabilization, educational and child care support for children, drug addiction, and workforce development.
Mental Health Services – The legislature will continue efforts to provide greater access to mental health services this year. The General Assembly has increased funding for mental health programs over the past several years, particularly those which help Tennesseans facing opioid dependence. Approximately 385,000 Tennesseans age 12 and older are estimated to have a substance use disorder. There could also be actions taken to expand the number of courts in Tennessee which specialize in providing drug and mental health treatment programs. These courts have been successful in changing lives and setting offenders on the right path.
Vaping / Smoking – A high profile health issue that will come before the Tennessee General Assembly during the upcoming session is the escalation of Vaping-Associated Pulmonary illness. In December, President Trump signed into law a provision in the federal budget making it a violation to sell tobacco to anyone under the age of 21, up from the current age of 18. The new minimum age applies to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vaping cartridges. Legislation could be considered this year to put the state’s statutes in harmony with federal law. Some of the other issues that could come up regarding vaping include banning flavors which attract youth, new licensing requirements, reporting requirements, enforcement provisions, education and warning labels, and taxation.
Health Care Consumer Transparency – Health care consumer legislation will be a top priority this year, including a proposal to protect patients from surprise medical bills. The legislation will likely center on providing transparency for patients so that they are aware of any out-of-network services being performed. Similarly, the General Assembly could discuss consumer transparency in the health care industry through all payer claim databases. Proponents of these databases consider them a crucial tool in states’ efforts to improve public health, control costs, aid research, provide transparency, and foster competition among medical providers.