Our VP of Government Affairs Keith Norman recently spoke to Memphis Medical News about health care issues that could be included on the 2018 Tennessee legislative agenda. Some of these issues include expansion of Medicaid, the opioid epidemic, maintenance of certification, balance billing and extension of the Health Services and Development Agency. These issues have the potential to have a direct impact on patients. I’m highlighting three of these issues and why they are significant.
Opioid epidemic. This is a national crisis that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and drug abuse in the United States. Nearly 1,600 related deaths were reported in Tennessee in 2016 alone. In response, The Tennessee Task Force on Opioid Abuse has developed a number of recommendations to address this issue. Some of these include limiting controlled medications prescribed in emergency departments and by health care professionals, establishing a Tennessee Commission to Combat Drug Abuse, developing consistent approaches to determining overdose deaths and adding 25 agents to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in the next year.
For patients, this will affect the types of pain relief prescribed in emergency departments and at doctors’ offices. At many of our hospitals, including Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis, we’ve implemented an “opioid light” program to avoid giving patients opioids as pain relievers whenever possible. Since implementing this program at Baptist Memphis, we’ve seen a 50 percent reduction in the number of patients receiving opioids and a 30 percent increase in patient satisfaction for pain treatment.
Maintenance of Certification. In 2017, the Tennessee House of Representatives and Senate unanimously passed a bill that stopped requiring physician maintenance of certification for state licensure. It also created a task force to study hospital hiring practices, admitting privileges and insurance networks. This bill prevents hospitals from denying admitting privileges to physicians based on their participation in maintenance of certification requirements, such as any periodic recertification examinations or other activities to maintain specialty medical board certifications, which are often set by national organizations. The task force created to study this issue will make recommendations for improving the process along with possible alternatives for maintenance of certification. Obviously, our health care team supports and requires proper certification, education and training. I look forward to hearing the recommendations of the task force, especially if these contribute to quality providers and help reduce the burden of the certification process.
Extension of the Health Services and Development Agency. The Health Services and Development Agency, which regulates the health care industry through the certificate of need program, was set to expire in 2017. A three-year extension of the agency and continuation of the certificate of need program may be up for consideration. This agency is important to health care because it approves or denies permits to develop or modify health care facilities or services. We’d like to see HSDA expand its criteria for freestanding emergency departments because these facilities can meet a critical need for growing communities that aren’t quite ready for a full-scale hospital. Freestanding ERs provide the same level of emergency services as most ERs attached to a hospital. These facilities are open 24 hours a day, have advanced testing and imaging capabilities, and are conveniently located for the community. Freestanding ERs also typically have little to no wait times, excellent outcomes and high patient satisfaction. We think there are a number of communities close to the Memphis area that could benefit from a freestanding ER.