This story was updated Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019, at 7:42 p.m. with more information.
NASHVILLE — Tennessee Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter on Tuesday announced members who will serve on Gov. Bill Lee's 25-person Health Care Modernization Task Force, a group charged with recommending short- and long-term answers to problems in a state long plagued by underserved areas, as well as cellar-level health rankings among its citizens.
Task Force members include Dr. Andrea Willis, a senior vice president and chief medical officer for Chattanooga-based insurer BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. Also named by Lee to serve on the panel are three area lawmakers: state Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bo Watson, R-Hixson, Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, and Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton.
Lee, a Republican, said in a statement: "Working together, with patients, providers and payers, we can establish Tennessee as a world-class health care market for our people" and the effort "will help move Tennessee toward better health outcomes and toward being a leader in the nation on health care."
The task force is chaired by McWherter, who has a master's degree in hospital administration and is a key figure in Clayton Associates, a successful Nashville-based healthcare-oriented venture capital fund. The co-chair is Bill Carpenter, a former chairman and CEO of LifePoint Health, which operates hospitals, post-acute service providers and outpatient centers.
A primary goal is expanding access to health services, as well as improving health outcomes across the state. Tennessee has been ranked 43rd among states in terms of how well its governments are meeting citizens' health care needs.
McWhorter, whose office conducted a "listening tour" in the lead up to the task force's creation, said "we don't have in mind how long this will go."
Some elements of the five "major themes" fleshed out through the closed-door sessions with providers, insurers and other groups could be achieved more quickly than others, McWhorter noted. Others could take years, with results coming after Lee, who took office in January, leaves office.
"Which is fine, we're not doing it for credit," McWhorter said recently. "We're doing it for what's best long term."
The five major "themes" envisioned are intended to respond to problems. They are:
* Transportation: Getting to a doctor or other health provider is a problem in rural and even urban areas of the state. Potential strategies include establishing public-private partnerships with ride-share companies and partnering with relevant state agencies. Hospitals could be encouraged to integrate transportation into their strategic plans.
* Technology and telehealth: Officials are hoping to cover some areas through a well-planned use of technology.
* Rural health: While urban areas have hospitals, rural hospitals do not. Among other ideas bandied about are more formalized partnerships between urban hospitals and rural providers in a state where at least 12 rural hospitals have closed in recent years.
Tennessee Healthcare Modernization Listening Tour Findings and ConsiderationsView
* Social "determinants" of health: It's a lengthy list that includes housing, income, transportation, education employment, behavior and access to care.
* Price transparency in health care: Officials hope greater transparency about health care costs can improve patient outcomes and experience. The issue includes "surprise billing." While Tennessee has already taken a tentative steps, officials here say more needs to be done and a federal solution may be necessary.
The task force itself could evolve over time, McWhorter said, adding "this is a very heavy lift, a generational long-term view."
While the administration's outreach in the listening tour was conducted behind closed doors — McWhorter said that was to allow frank and free exchanges — the actual task force's meetings will be public.
Summary of the Health Care Listening TourView
Advocates for the poor have criticized Lee and fellow Republicans for refusing to expand health care to an estimated 300,000 low-income, working-age men and women through the federal Affordable Care Act, known as Obama Care.
The advocates more recently have also lambasted Republicans for seeking a federal waiver from Medicaid rules, which would convert $7.9 billion in federal funding for TennCare, the state's Medicaid program, into a block grant and free the state from many rules in the insurance program for 1.4 million of the state's poorest residents.
In appointing Watson, the Lee administration has picked a lawmaker who works for Parkridge Medical Center in Chattanooga, where he serves as director for therapy services.
Watson in 2018 sponsored legislation to provide state-supported business and technical expertise to struggling rural hospitals. It became law.
Rep. Smith, a registered nurse recently named as House Insurance Committee chair, this year successfully pushed a "Tennessee Right to Shop Act" which seeks to make insurers' pricing more transparent.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.