By Scott Robertson
Back in late February and early March, publications like this one were spilling a lot of ink regarding two bills being considered in the Tennessee General Assembly. The first was a bill put forth in the Senate by District 3 State Senator Rusty Crowe. Senate Bill 2048 (and its House companion legislation, HB 2020) sought to keep the Ballad Health COPA monitor from releasing to the public information the release of which could materially harm Ballad, and potentially, the economy of the region. The second was House Bill 2602 (and its Senate companion bill, SB 2317), the prime sponsor of which was District 7 Representative Matthew Hill. That bill would have prevented the Tri-Cities Airport Authority from taking any action without first obtaining the approval for such action from a newly formed executive board made up of state legislators.
With the 110th General Assembly having gaveled to adjournment (sine die) we can report on the outcomes of both.
First, the “Ballad Bill.” The bill initially met with what Crowe referred to as a “firestorm” of negative reaction. The idea of keeping COPA compliance information out of the public eye was not popular. Even Ballad Chairman and CEO Alan Levine conceded, “Is it possible the language that was originally submitted was too broad? Yeah.”
The Senate Health and Welfare Committee was slated to take up the bill on Feb. 28, but deferred action until representatives from Ballad, the office of the Attorney General and the Department of Health could convene and work up an amendment. Ballad sought to keep proprietary information confidential. The government sought to keep voters from revolting against what could be seen as trying to alter the terms of the COPA almost before it became law.
After discussion among the parties, an amendment was introduced March 22.
The amendment (SA 0731) changes the wording of the bill to limit what’s redacted from COPA reporting to:
(1) Operating and capital budgets;
(2) Existing and future business plans other than any plans, and any modifications to those plans, that are required to be submitted to the state pursuant to a certificate of public advantage or application for a certificate of public advantage;
(3) Financial audit working papers
(4) Contracts or agreements with payors and payor pricing information;
(5) Physician recruitment plans and contracts or agreements with physicians;
(6) Contracts or agreements with vendors;
(7) Complaints, including hotline complaints and open investigations of such complaints; and
(8) Employee personnel files, including performance evaluations, disciplinary actions, individual compensation amounts, and employment contract terms not otherwise publicly available.
Item (2) is a key, in that it mandates disclosure of future business plans already mandated for disclosure in the COPA. Concerned citizens had questioned whether the original bill would allow Ballad to close or repurpose facilities without following the strictures set forth in the COPA.
The amendment also sets forth a seven-day notification period. Should the state plan to release information that could include Ballad trade secrets, it will give Ballad a week’s notice so the company can petition to block that release.
Both the amendment and the amended bill passed the Senate the same day they came to the floor. Once the House bill made it through the Health; Finance, Ways and Means; and Calendar and Rules committees, it passed on a 93-1 vote April 17. The bill went to the governor for his signature April 23.
As for the bill putting the Tri-Cities Airport Authority under a newly created board of state legislators, it was sent to committee in both the State House and Senate within a week of being introduced. It never made it out of either committee.
In the long term, perhaps the most important legislation brought by a Northeast Tennessee delegation member may be House Bill 1831, introduced by District 5 Representative David Hawk (and its companion senate bill, SB 2257). That bill limits the duration and dosage of opioid prescriptions for new patients, with reasonable exceptions for major surgical procedures and exemptions that include cancer and hospice treatment, sickle cell disease as well as treatment in certain licensed facilities. With initial opioid prescriptions limited to a three-day supply, Tennessee will have one of the most strict and aggressive opioid policies in the nation.