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Health Care Will Be Important Priority of Special Session

From 28th District State Sen. Dr. Joey Hensley

We will convene Jan. 12 to begin the 2021 session of the 112th General Assembly.

Health care will be a top priority with the COVID-19 pandemic and a wide variety of other important issues to be discussed.

Lawmakers will look for ways to support healthcare systems, lower costs, increase access and improve quality of care. Some health-related legislation that the General Assembly plans to take up follows.

Vaccines – The Tennessee Department of Health has developed a preliminary structure for the allocation and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. The vaccines require two doses injected 21 to 28 days apart.

Tennessee’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan was released Dec. 2 and includes four phases, with the first vaccines going to frontline hospital health care workers.

This wave will be followed by first responders, and staff and residents at long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes.

Then the plan calls for making vaccines available to other high priority populations or those at high risk of complications from COVID-19. These include remaining health care workers, people with high-risk comorbidities, and the elderly, before moving to other population groups in phases two, three and four.

Tennesseans have taken a highly active role in the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine trials. The state’s Financial Stimulus Accountability Group is looking at any needed funds to help ensure vaccines are distributed efficiently and effectively.

The General Assembly will actively monitor the situation as the immunization plan unfolds. Gov. Lee has said Tennesseans have a choice whether to take the vaccine.

In related news, legislation has been filed to allow for vaccine exemptions based on religious objections or by right of conscience. Tennessee law allows for certain exemptions based on religious grounds for routine vaccinations, but the pandemic is not covered under the statute.

Health Care Safety Net Services / TennCare – The General Assembly will likely consider putting additional money in the 2021-2022 fiscal year budget to widen Tennessee’s Health Care Safety Net for adults in need of primary care, behavioral health, and dental services.

State lawmakers made improvements in these areas during the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions. The need for mental health services has particularly grown due to the pandemic. Proposals are also expected to increase access to preventative care and smoking cessation.

In addition, expansion of postpartum coverage for pregnant women could be on the legislative agenda. Last year, TennCare officials recommended a three-year pilot program to extend 12-month coverage after delivery for women ineligible under another program category.

Finally, lawmakers may look for availability of funds for the Department of Health’s Evidence-Based Home Visiting Program. The successful program offers an effective early-intervention strategy to improve the health and well-being of children and parents. Research demonstrates that young children of families enrolled in the program show improvement in health and development outcomes and increased school readiness. Since the pandemic, TennCare has added 83,000 new recipients, a six percent increase. This is in line with national trends resulting from the pandemic.

Telehealth Services – In August, the General Assembly passed major legislation expanding telehealth services. It required coverage of telehealth and telemedicine services, giving patients the option to receive medically necessary care at home and prevent the spread of the virus.

The state’s health programs have greatly increased usage of telehealth services during the pandemic. Look for additional proposals regarding telehealth or the way the state delivers these services through TennCare and safety net programs to be proposed in 2021.

Certificate of Need - Legislation affecting Tennessee’s certificate-of-need requirements (CON) for health care facilities will likely be discussed again this year.

CON is a legal document required in some states, including Tennessee, before proposed acquisitions, expansions or creations of healthcare facilities are allowed.

In short, if a hospital or healthcare facility wishes to expand its capacity, whether that is the number of hospital beds it makes available or the types of imaging it can conduct, the facility must apply to a state board for permission through the CON process.

In recent legislative sessions, bills were filed limiting CON requirements and eliminating them altogether.

The Tennessee Health Services Development Agency (HSDA), which grants or denies CON applications is up for Sunset Review this year.

Expect that debate to continue in 2021, including legislation which focuses on streamlining the process, removing unnecessary barriers and reducing costs.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 35 states operate CON programs which greatly differ in scope.

Sen. Hensley may be reached at 425 5th Avenue North, Suite 746, Nashville Tenn. 37243.

His office telephone number is 615-741-3100, toll free 1-800-449-8366, extension 13100; or fax 615-253-0231.

His mailing address is 855 Summertown Highway, Hohenwald Tenn., 38462

His home telephone number is 931-796-2018, cell telephone number is 931-212-8823 and e-mail is sen.joey.hensley@capitol.tn.gov


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