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Legislature Extends Covid-19 Liability Protections

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

This information is provided by 28th District State Sen. Joey Hensley, MD, R-Hohenwald, who represents Giles, Lewis, Marshall, Maury and part of Williamson counties.

He continues with a summary of legislation passed in the 113th General Assembly.

Extending COVID-19 liability protections indefinitely – The General Assembly made permanent laws passed during the COVID-19 pandemic to protect citizens from government overreach and provide businesses and health care providers with liability protections from health-related claims.

By making these laws permanent, lawmakers ensure that state and local governments cannot require COVID-19 vaccine mandates, and statewide standards are met before local governments can issue mask mandates in public and schools.

Among other things, it guarantees a hospitalized person can have a family member with them during their stay.

Protecting parental rights regarding vaccines – This law, called the Mature Minor Doctrine Clarification Act, prohibits a healthcare provider from giving vaccinations to minors without parental consent.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tennessee Department of Health issued a memo to healthcare providers that cited the Mature Minor Doctrine for authority to provide COVID-19 vaccines to minors without parental consent.

After lawmakers raised concerns with newly authorized shots given to children without parental knowledge or consent, the department reversed course.

This law clarifies that the Mature Minor Doctrine does not allow minors to be vaccinated without parental consent.

Family Medicine Student Loan Repayment Grant – Legislation was approved to create a grant program to recruit physicians to serve patients in rural areas with health services shortages. The Family Medicine Student Loan Repayment Grant will be administered by the Department of Health and provide up to $40,000 per year in grants for up to five years to residents who commit to provide medical services in a Tennessee health resource shortage area for at least five years following residency training in family medicine.

To be eligible for the grant, a person must also have graduated from an accredited medical school, be actively enrolled in a Tennessee family medicine residency program and apply for the program during their residency.

The department can consult the Tennessee student assistance corporation, the board of medical examiners and the board of osteopathic examination to promulgate rules and regulations for management and administration of the program.

The grant for loan repayment cannot exceed total student loan debt.

Strengthening Right to Shop Act - The General Assembly built on efforts to lower health care costs by improving competition in the marketplace.

A new law strengthens the Right to Shop Act by creating a viable avenue to negotiate fair prices with out-of-network providers in non-emergency situations.

If a patient negotiates a lower price with an out-of-network provider, then the patient can submit paperwork to their insurance company and have their out-of-pocket cost applied to their deductible.

Ensuring patients’ choice in lab testing - This law allows Tennesseans with health insurance plans to use the licensed medical laboratory of their choice.

The law also prohibits an insurance company from denying a licensed medical laboratory from participating in a qualified policy or plan.

During the COVID-19 pandemic when lab testing was in high demand, some insurers required COVID-19 tests be sent to out-of-state labs, causing delays, when they could have been processed quicker by in-state labs.

Expanding telehealth providers for TennCare recipients - A law expands TennCare recipients’ access to healthcare providers by allowing telehealth providers with an address in another state to provide services through TennCare.

Previously, any vendor through TennCare had to have a physical address in Tennessee, but this law removes that requirement, allowing greater healthcare access to people with TennCare.

Providing coverage for breast cancer screenings – A law helps increase access to medically necessary diagnostic and supplemental breast imaging by eliminating the burdensome out-of-pocket cost for patients whose health insurance covers these services.

These procedures are necessary to rule out breast cancer or to diagnose it sooner and help save lives.

The new law requires a health benefit plan to provide coverage for mammogram screenings to also provide for diagnostic imaging without charging the patient a cost-sharing requirement.

If a patient has a high deductible health benefit plan with a health savings account, this only applies after the enrollee has satisfied the required minimum deductible, except for items or services preventive care services. It is not intended to create a new health mandate, rather eliminates the out-of-pocket cost on patients for these services.

Without financial assistance, many women will delay or forego recommended breast imaging tests.

This delay can mean patients will not seek care until the cancer has spread, making it much deadlier and costlier to treat.

Breast cancer can be up to five times more expensive to treat when it has spread to other parts of the body. Every month delay raises the risk of death.

State Sen. Hensley may be reached at 425 Rep. John Lewis Way N., Suite 742, Nashville, Tenn., 37243, call 615-741-3100, call toll free 1-800-449-8366 ext. 13100 or fax 615-253-0231 .

His district address is 855 Summertown Highway, Hohenwald, Tenn., 38462, or call 931-796-2018, call his cell phone at 931-212-8823 or email sen.joey.hensley@capitol.tn.gov

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