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November 17 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office. 

 

Haslam still mulling health exchange options after deadline extension (NBJ)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has not made up his mind on whether Tennessee should create a state-run health insurance exchange as part of Obamacare or if he should allow the federal government to set up the program. Governors originally had until today to announce their intentions on the new health insurance marketplaces, but the Obama administration Thursday extended the deadline until Dec. 14. Haslam, who has said a state-run exchange would offer some benefits over a federally imposed program, said today he will continue to consider his options.

Haslam Dispatch from GOP Meeting: ‘I Oppose the Affordable Care Act’ (WPLN)

A few days hanging out with other Republican governors has Tennessee’s Bill Haslam trying to clarify his position on Obamacare. A statement released Friday says, “Let me be clear, I oppose the Affordable Care Act.” Haslam has been saying for the last few weeks that he’s leaning toward the state running it’s own health insurance exchange as envisioned in the President’s health care overhaul. Other Republican governors – as close by as Alabama – say the federal government can figure it out. Haslam says he needs more information.

Haslam delays decision on running health insurance exchange (CP/Zelinski)

Gov. Bill Haslam said he wants to take advantage of the federal government’s extended deadline to decide whether Tennessee should set up it’s own health insurance exchange. Haslam said he wants the extra time to await answers from President Barack Obama’s administration about details of the exchanges before making a decision that will likely be challenged by members of the General Assembly. “I understand there is a lot of passion and uncertainty about the health care law, and I share that frustration,” Haslam said in an emailed statement today while attending the Republican Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas.

Haslam delays decision on health exchange (Associated Press, TFP/Sher)

Gov. Bill Haslam on Friday announced he is postponing a decision on whether Tennessee will create its online marketplace for health insurance, taking advantage of President Barack Obama’s administration’s month-long extension of what had been today’s deadline for states to decide. State House Democrats accused the governor of procrastinating and urged him to “rip the Band-Aid off — one way or another.” Haslam, a Republican, said no decision has been made by the state regarding creating its own insurance exchange or letting the federal government do it.

Haslam hasn’t decided whether to pursue TN-run insurance exchange (TN/Rau)

Governor weighs lawmakers’ support If Gov. Bill Haslam chooses to pursue a state-run health insurance exchange under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, he might not get much support from the legislature. Haslam said Friday no decision has been made regarding the exchanges after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services gave states more time to make a choice. Tennessee and other states must choose whether to create state-run health insurance exchanges or allow the federal government to run them.

Haslam delays decision for online health insurance market (C. Appeal/Locker)

Gov. Bill Haslam on Friday delayed a decision on whether the state will create an online market for people to compare and buy health insurance. The deadline for notifying the federal government on whether states will create their own health “exchanges” or defer to a federally run exchange was originally set for Friday. But acting on a request by the Republican Governors Association, U.S. Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Thursday night that she was extending the deadline to Dec. 14.

Gov. Haslam Delays Insurance Decision (WREG-TV Memphis)

Gov. Bill Haslam has delayed a decision on whether the state will create a way for residents to buy and compare insurance.It;s called an “exchange” and several states have theirs set up already. The deadline was today but has been extended to December 14. Governor Haslam has said the Department of Health and Human Services was not giving states enough information to set up a proper plan. Haslam issued a statement Friday: “The deadline for states to respond to the federal government about health insurance exchanges has been extended.

Tenn. yet to decide on health insurance exchange (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

Governor Bill Haslam says he’s taking advantage of an extended deadline the federal government has given states regarding health insurance exchanges. Haslam has yet to reach a decision, but the governor says he’s hopeful that in the coming weeks he will receive answers from Washington. He wants to know how much flexibility Tennessee would have if it set up its own exchange. States had until Friday to inform the federal government if they plan to set up their own health insurance markets, but officials announced Friday the deadline has been extended to December 14.

States Decline to Set Up Exchanges for Insurance (New York Times)

Georgia, Ohio and Wisconsin joined more than a dozen other states on Friday in saying they would not establish health insurance exchanges, while a handful of other states said they would take advantage of an extra month allowed by the Obama administration to make decisions. The exchanges — online markets where consumers can shop for private insurance subsidized by the federal government — are a centerpiece of President Obama’s health care law. The administration has been urging states to set up exchanges, as Congress intended.

Latest review of DCS software will study whether fix is working (TN/Gonzalez)

The dysfunctional computer software used by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services to keep track of abused and neglected children will undergo another review — this time with more attention to whether the current approach to fixing problems is working. As suggested in federal court last month, a group of court-appointed child welfare experts and computer experts will review the Tennessee Family and Child Tracking System, or TFACTS, which has been blamed for a wide range of problems.

Meningitis outbreak: NECC failed to report Colo. disciplinary action (TN/Roche)

Tennessee officials say that the owners of the Massachusetts drug compounding firm blamed in the death of 13 Tennessee patients failed to report a formal disciplinary action in another state more than a year before the current fungal meningitis outbreak. Woody McMillin, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Health, said Friday that officials of New England Compounding failed to report to the state Pharmacy Board that the firm had been the subject of an April 15, 2011, cease-and-desist order by Colorado regulators.

North Hamilton County toll bridge is feasible, study finds (Times Free-Press/Walton)

A long-awaited study has found that a toll bridge across the Tennessee River in north Hamilton County is economically feasible, Tennessee’s transportation commissioner says. But Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer said a feasibility finding doesn’t automatically mean there’s a new bridge coming. “We’re continuing to move down that path,” Schroer said Thursday after speaking to the Rotary Club in Chattanooga. The study will be unveiled Dec. 5 for members of a Hamilton County Commission-appointed toll committee, and two public hearings will be held sometime after that, according to TDOT.

Two charged with ‘doctor-shopping’ (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

A Knox County woman has been indicted for TennCare fraud involving “doctor shopping,” or using TennCare to go to multiple doctors in a short time period to obtain controlled substances. The Office of Inspector General, assisted by Knox County Sheriff’s Office, on Wednesday announced the arrest of Leanna Paige King, also known as Leanna Paige Brown, 38, of Knoxville. She is charged with six counts of fraudulently using TennCare to obtain controlled substances by doctor shopping. In a separate instance, a Loudon County man is charged in a Knox County indictment with TennCare fraud involving doctor shopping.

Three finalists chosen for appeals position (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/South)

One of three finalists chosen Friday for the Tennessee Court of Appeals is from the Chattanooga area. The Judicial Nominating Commission chose Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant, of Athens, along with Chancellor Thomas Frierson, of Morristown, and State Sen. Mike Faulk, of Church Hill, from among the 11 candidates. The three names, vying for the seat of retired Judge Herschel P. Franks, will be sent to Gov. Bill Haslam for final appointment. Franks recently announced his retirement after 42 years of public service, most recently in the Eastern Section of the appeals court.

County, city go after tax scofflaws, filing 63 lawsuits (News-Sentinel/Donila)

Attorneys with Knox County and Knoxville have filed 62 lawsuits against area businesses to collect almost $1.3 million in combined delinquent taxes on “tangible personal property.” The companies include taxi services, realtors, beauty salons and cleaning and lodging firms. Some owe about $1,700 in back taxes, while others are on the hook for more than $175,000. The lawsuits, which target unpaid taxes on items such as computers, desks, furniture and operating equipment, were filed in Knox County Chancery Court on Thursday afternoon.

Memphis eyes shifting tax collection duties (Commercial Appeal/Maki)

The city of Memphis is poised to move forward with a plan to allow the Shelby County Trustee to collect current and delinquent taxes for the city. Chief Administrative Officer George Little said the City Council will be briefed Tuesday on a plan to allow trustee David Lenoir to collect current and past-due taxes for an annual fee of $1.25 million. The city recently informed Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, a Texas-based delinquent tax collecting firm, that it does not plan to renew the company’s contract.

Election administrator defends machines, late results (Daily News Journal)

Rutherford County Election Commission to meet Monday Rutherford County counted its last vote on election night at 1:45 a.m., and that’s well past the 10:15 p.m. estimated for the larger Hamilton County. The difference for the Chattanooga area voters is they use paper ballots for all election day, absentee and early votes that can be counted instantly by their AccuVote machines instead of the MicroVote digital machines and card readers used in Rutherford County. “We have a much better process,” Hamilton County Election Administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan said during a Friday phone interview.

Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ career finished, pundits say (Tennessean/Rau)

At least one prominent Tennessee Republican said Friday he’s seriously considering challenging Rep. Scott DesJarlais in 2014, as political observers said revelations about DesJarlais’ divorce portend serious trouble for his career. “We’ve worked a long time to win this (4th Congressional District) seat and I don’t want to lose it,” said retired Cracker Barrel executive Forrest Shoaf of Lebanon. “I’m giving strong thought to running in the (2014) primary.” If not Shoaf, it will be someone, several Washington political observers said.

Scott DesJarlais won’t step down (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Carroll)

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais said Friday that the physician-turned-politician has no plans to step down despite new revelations that could jeopardize his medical license. “No, he does not,” spokesman Robert Jameson told The Hill, a Washington, D.C., newspaper, when asked if DesJarlais planned to resign his 4th District seat. On Thursday, the Chattanooga Times Free Press published a story confirming that the recently re-elected, anti-abortion Republican supported his ex-wife’s two abortions in the 1990s before they were married.

‘Catch Me If You Can’ figure urges action to prevent fraud against elderly (CA)

The real Frank W. Abagnale, the identity thief played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie “Catch Me If You Can,” warned a Senate panel Thursday about the dangers facing elderly fraud victims. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., a member of the Special Committee on Aging, drew out the former swindler-turned- FBI-consultant, about punishment for crimes against the elderly. Abagnale, 64, who was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for check forgeries in the early 1960s, said a similar crime by a juvenile might now result in community service or a very short prison term.

First Talks Bring Hope of Broad Budget Deal (Wall Street Journal)

President Barack Obama and congressional leaders agreed Friday to move quickly on negotiations to avert a year-end fiscal crisis that has put markets on edge. Congressional leaders sounded positive notes after their first round of talks about their ability to craft a bipartisan budget deal. Aides said the leaders agreed to a two-stage approach that would make a down payment on deficit reduction this year. The second stage would force detailed decisions next year on thornier tasks such as overhauling the tax code and cutting spending, including to entitlement programs.

Kilgore: Refurbishment of Sequoyah Unit Two Ahead of Schedule (WPLN-Radio)

The CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority says its Sequoyah Unit Two nuclear reactor north of Chattanooga should come back online early next year. Crews have 90 days to replace aging equipment. TVA is using remote-controlled robots and what it calls the world’s largest crane to lift the top off the reactor’s containment building and replace a set of steam generators. Seqouyah has been operating since 1980. By replacing the generators, TVA hopes federal regulators will renew its license for another 20 years.

TVA boosts executive pay (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Flessner)

The Tennessee Valley Authority boosted compensation for its top officers in fiscal 2012 to a record high despite a federal pay freeze. Tom Kilgore, TVA’s chief executive who is retiring at the end of the year, was paid more than $4 million in total compensation in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. Kilgore has headed the nation’s biggest government utility for the past six years and is one of the highest paid federal workers in America. Kilgore’s total pay for salary, benefits and pension was more than 10 times the $400,000 salary paid to President Barack Obama.

TVA $60M in the black for 2012 (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

TVA’s balance sheet was dinged by mild winter weather, but the agency was able to stay in the black during its most recent fiscal year. The federal utility also paid many of its top executives substantially more in fiscal 2012 than in the year before. The Knoxville-based agency announced annual results on Friday, saying it generated net income of $60 million even as revenues fell by five percent, to $11.2 billion. “We had some challenges, but the workforce responded in an outstanding way and it was a very good year overall,” TVA’s outgoing CEO, Tom Kilgore, said on a conference call.

Mediation in Cards for Schools Case (Memphis Daily News)

The silence in the municipal schools federal court case is a sign. With a gag rule in place for attorneys on all sides, there are nevertheless reports that all sides in the case that has already reshaped public education in Shelby County might get together Monday, Nov. 19, and give a mediated settlement a try. Beyond that, not much else is known. It’s not known if Memphis federal court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays will be the mediator as he was last year when all sides reached a settlement on what have been the terms for the coming merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools.

 

OPINION

Times Editorial: DesJarlais’ duplicity (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Tennessee Democrats understandably called for newly re-elected Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, who represents the state’s 4th District, to resign Thursday after testimony from the transcript of his 2001 divorce trial was reported by The Chattanooga Times Free Press. Republicans in his district, elsewhere in the state and round the nation should join that demand. The details revealed in the sworn testimony are that damning. Some of the details contained in the transcript of the proceedings between the physician and his first wife — at least two sexual affairs with patients, his urging one of his paramours to have an abortion — were public knowledge during the just concluded campaign in which DesJarlais defeated Democratic challenger Eric Stewart. DesJarlais told voters to pay no attention to the charges, suggesting they had little merit and that they were the product of a smear campaign designed to distract voters from the true issues in the campaign. He was wrong on both counts.

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