December 22 TN News Digest

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

With big assist from hospitals, Haslam begins building support for plan (TFP/Sher)

Salesman Bill Haslam was in high gear last week, urging Tennessee county mayors to get on board with his Insure Tennessee proposal as he also worked to persuade the GOP-led Legislature to OK his conservative take on expanding Medicaid. “It’s a real opportunity to say, here’s what we think health care should look like,” the Republican governor explained to several dozen county leaders during their winter gathering in Nashville. It didn’t take much convincing for Madison County Mayor Jimmy Harris. He thanked Haslam for unveiling his “market-driven” plan. The two-year pilot project would provide health coverage to as many as 200,000 low-income adults under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. A November poll by Vanderbilt University found 56 percent of registered Tennessee voters surveyed supported expanding Medicaid.

How Is Haslam’s Medicaid Expansion Different From Regular TennCare? (WPLN)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to expand Medicaid is expected to cover hundreds of thousands of uninsured Tennesseans, and it’s hoping to accomplish that by helping employees out with the cost of employer-provided insurance and expanding TennCare’s rolls. Insure Tennessee, as it’s been dubbed, is aimed at those who make too much money to qualify for TennCare, but too little to get a subsidy under the Affordable Care Act. For people who fall in this gap, there are two options available. John Graves, a professor at Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine who has studied the proposal, helped unpack some of the particulars. “The questions is how many of them are working in a job that offers them health insurance benefits that they’ve declined because they were unable to afford it,” Graves said.

Teacher evaluation proposals reviewed (Cleveland Daily Banner)

Local education officials recently shared their perspectives on proposals announced by Gov. Bill Haslam on how public school students are evaluated and how much their test scores could factor into teachers’ evaluations.  proposals are billed as “initiatives to support teachers” and are to be considered by the state legislature.  “We’ve asked more from our teachers and students over the past four years than ever before, and they are responding by making historic gains in academic achievement,” Haslam said.  “Educators are vital to continued progress in Tennessee, and we want to make sure we’re supporting them in meaningful ways and giving them the tools they need to lead their classrooms, schools and districts.”

Year of milestones for Tennessee entrepreneurs (Tennessean/Brock)

Tennessee is known for its ability to foster entrepreneurship and business growth by facilitating connections between startups and capital. In 2014, the state continued to forge those relationships, but also provided many more innovative ways to grow business that attracted the attention of investors across the Southeast and around the nation. Accelerator network Tennessee’s unique accelerator network continues to draw in entrepreneurs from Tennessee, the Southeast and the nation. This has been remarkable for the quantity of companies screened and accelerated through the network. We’ve placed greater emphasis on the quality as well, making sure that the companies who enter into, and engage with, our accelerators are primed for success. When it comes to new-business development, numbers matter.

Which States Created the Most Jobs in 2014? (Stateline)

Nearly every state added jobs in 2014, and 14 states experienced an employment increase of 2 percent or more, according to a Stateline analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Friday. Boosted by an oil and gas boom, North Dakota’s jobs total grew by 4.8 percent between December 2013 and November of this year, the largest increase of any state. Texas’s employment growth ranked second at 3.7 percent, and Utah was third at 3.4 percent. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia experienced employment growth of 1 percent or more. More than a dozen states added at least 50,000 jobs, with populous states such as Texas, California and Florida leading the way. Texas’s 3.7 percent employment growth translated into nearly 417,000 additional jobs; in California, the increase was nearly 327,000 (2.1 percent); and in Florida, employment increased nearly 217,000 (2.8 percent). Ten other states added at least 50,000 jobs. North Carolina had the biggest gain among these states, adding nearly 99,000 jobs (2.4 percent). The others, in descending order of jobs created, are Georgia, Washington, New York, Ohio, Arizona, Indiana, Colorado, Tennessee and Massachusetts.

FHU prof’s ornament hangs on tree in governor’s mansion (Jackson Sun)

Dr. Barbara England, chairwoman of the Department of Fine Arts at Freed-Hardeman University, painted an ornament representing Chickasaw State Park for the fourth annual Tennessee’s Home for the Holidays open house event. Gov. Bill Haslam and first lady Crissy Haslam opened their home, the Tennessee Residence, to the public for the event. The decoration theme “Tennessee Landscapes” highlights the 56 state parks across West, Middle and East Tennessee, according to a news release. Hand-painted ornaments of each state park, created by local artists, are hung on the Christmas tree in the main foyer of the house. The tree also features each state park’s trail markers and is topped by a park ranger uniform hat. Park patches adorn the tree skirt.

Lane closures halted on Tenn. roads for holidays (Associated Press)

The state Transportation Department is halting all lane closures on interstates and state highways over the holidays. According to a news release, the department expects two million drivers of Tennessee roadways over Christmas and New Year. Except for a few long-term closures that must remain in place for safety reasons, all construction-related closures will be suspended beginning at noon  Tuesday and ending at 9 a.m. Monday, Jan. 5.

Tennesseans ‘crammed’ by T-Mobile to receive payback (Tennessean/Barnes)

Mobile customers in Tennessee who incurred “cramming” charges can expect to finally get their money back, now that the company will be dishing out $90 million to customers across the nation. The settlement aims to resolve allegations that the phone service provider placed charges for third-party services on consumers’ mobile telephone bills that were not authorized by the consumer, otherwise known as “mobile cramming.” Crammed consumers often incurred charges, typically $9.99 per month, for “premium” text message subscription services, or PSMS, such as horoscopes, trivia and sports scores that the consumers never heard of nor requested.

State high court rules against hospitals in two billing cases (N-S/Humphey)

The higher hospital charges billed to people who are uninsured are not “necessary and reasonable” and thus cannot be used by hospitals to place a lien against those who had their bill paid by insurance companies, the state Supreme Court has ruled. In a unanimous ruling Friday, the court threw out liens filed against two patients treated at the Regional Medical Center in Memphis, known as “the Med,” after traffic accidents. In a news release, court officials said it is “common practice” for Tennessee hospitals to accept insurance payment, then nonetheless seek a lien against the patient in anticipation of a lawsuit against the person — or “tortfeasor” — who caused the accident.

Howell: Haslam is preparing plan to raise state’s gas tax (Cleveland Daily Banner)

Gov. Bill Haslam has communicated to state legislators to prepare for a proposal raising the state’s gas tax during the new legislative session beginning next month. The item was revealed by state Rep. Dan Howell who, along with state Rep. Kevin Brooks and state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, attended a meeting of the Cleveland/Bradley County Chamber of Commerce’s Public Affairs committee. “What that will look like we don’t know yet,” Howell said. He noted any proposal would have to go through the legislature’s committee process before going to a formal vote. “It will probably get to the floor,” he added. “I don’t know if it will be some kind of indexing tax or a flat rate per gallon. [The governor] has already signaled this is something he is going to do.”

Alexander, Corker get committee assignments (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Tennessee’s U.S. senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, have received their committee assignments for the new legislative session. Alexander said he’ll serve on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, where he is currently the ranking Republican member; Appropriations, where he is the ranking Republican member on the Energy and Water Appropriations subcommittee; Energy and Natural Resources; and Rules and Administration. “In the new Senate majority, Republicans will have an extraordinary opportunity to show Americans what it means to lead and work together to get results,” Alexander said.

Delegation pushing for funding extension for indigent care (N-S/Humphrey)

Tennessee’s two U.S. senators and seven of nine U.S. House members are urging federal officials to extend for another year federal Medicaid funding to the state for hospitals who treat a “disproportionate share” of indigent patients unable to pay their bills. In a letter to Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the lawmakers note Tennessee is the only state not to get regular “disproportionate share hospital” payments, known as DSH, and funding for the state has involved “six partial patches included in six laws” in recent years. In the past year, the moves provided $80 million to state hospitals. Tennessee’s unique situation relates back to the launching of TennCare in 1994, when the state agreed to give up DSH payments in exchange for other funding provisions that allowed increased enrollment in the belief that would end much of the state’s unreimbursed care. Since then, that has not been the case and the letter says the state’s hospitals had “$950 million in charity care and $720 million in unreimbursed costs in 2013.”





Times Editorial: EPA’s new ash rule is a Christmas lump of coal (Times Free-Press)

Don’t tell residents of East Tennessee that coal ash is just trash. If it’s just trash — something that can just be tucked into a regular garbage landfill, why did we ratepayers have to help the Tennessee Valley Authority pay $1.1 billion for the continuing cleanup of the Kingston ash spill that happened six years ago today? If it’s just trash, why has Congress and EPA theoretically been studying the hazards of coal ash since 1980? If it’s just trash, why — after 50 years of toxic-laden sludge obliterated a finger of the Emory River, oozed over nearly 400 acres of rural residential acreage in Harriman, Tenn., destroyed three houses, made about 300 other homes unlivable and resulted in the utility paying to settle claims with about 800 property owners — is TVA still cleaning up and still legally bound to monitor the spill site, nearby streams, wildlife and health for decades to come? Why? Because coal ash is and should be treated like the hazardous waste it really is.

Editorial: EPA’s decision on coal ash rule is a disappointment (News-Sentinel)

Today is the sixth anniversary of the massive coal ash spill at the Kingston Fossil Plant, and the cleanup essentially is complete. Its legacy, however, is not as transformational as it could have been. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s long-awaited rule on how to regulate coal ash, issued Friday, could have been a stouter shield for the public and the environment. The Dec. 22, 2008, rupture of the Kingston plant’s ash impoundment dumped 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash into the Emory River and the surrounding countryside. No one was killed or seriously injured, but homes were damaged or destroyed, the Emory’s channel clogged and confidence in the Tennessee Valley Authority shaken. The EPA quickly stepped in to join TVA in an unprecedented cleanup effort that will end up costing about $1.1 billion.