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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/ Representative Robin Smith answers a question. Members of the Hamilton County Legislative Delegation spoke to the Times Free Press at the newspaper's offices on November 15, 2019.

NASHVILLE — While Tennessee's new law allowing would-be gun owners to get a concealed carry handgun permit with video training is consuming most of the attention, here are some of the other 17 laws taking effect Jan. 1:

* The "Right to Shop" health insurance price transparency law, sponsored by Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, will allow people with commercial health insurance plans to access a member portal in their insurance plan where they can shop and compare health care service prices as they look to lower costs in four categories: medical imaging work such as X-rays or CT scans, infusion therapy involving administration of medication through a needle or catheter, physical therapy and occupational therapy.

"It is a new way to approach health care that hopefully will correct some of the issues causing health care [costs] to increase," said Smith, a registered nurse who is chairwoman of the House Insurance Committee.

People "are really getting to see that our utilization of health services has declined over the past years, but costs increase," Smith said, calling it "just a function of contracting through insurance companies. This [law] is going to be a little bit of pressure for the cost curve to bend down."

"If you know in advance, unless it's an emergency, you have broader control," Smith said.

She noted some health insurers, which fought a broader version of her bill, have already started posting the information for policy holders to shop. As it takes effect Wednesday, the new law applies solely to commercial insurance but it will later apply to TennCare and Medicare, Smith said.

* Tennessee seniors will see more protection under a law pushed by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga.

It revises existing safeguards and procedures in the existing Elderly and Vulnerable Protection Act to add new focus on crimes involving sexual exploitation of an elderly or vulnerable adult.

It expands the definition of "neglect" to include failure by a caregiver to make a reasonable effort to protect an elderly or vulnerable adult from abuse or sexual exploitation.

And it requires people convicted of abuse, sexual exploitation, neglect or financial exploitation to be placed on a registry managed by the Tennessee Department of Health.

Gardenhire said he pushed the issue after hearing "a lot of testimony that some elderly person was in bed and not being able to defend themselves and taken advantage by the people in the nursing home or assisted living place. It really left them vulnerable."

Noting he'll likely follow through with more legislation in 2020, Gardenhire said, "We want to make sure we really close the loop on all the elderly abuse that goes on."

* A bill requiring the state health insurance plan to allow use of proton radiation therapy to treat cancer, vetoed in 2018 by then-Gov. Bill Haslam, made its way through the General Assembly and was signed by Gov. Bill Lee this spring.

Proton therapy is seen as a more targeted radiation approach that is less harmful to surrounding healthy tissue. Rep. Smith sponsored the House bill, telling colleagues in April that "we're just moving and making this available based on the recommendations of leading cancer authors."

* Another new law seeking to better inform health care consumers about costs and billing goes into effect this week. Dubbed the Healthcare Billing Clarity Act, it helps patients figure out what charges come from a hospital and what charges come from a specialty physician working there. According to the Urban Institute, 54% of patients in the United States say their medical billing paperwork and invoices are confusing.

* A new state grant program will provide funding for select volunteer fire departments to use in the purchase of firefighting equipment or to meet local match requirements of federal grants for the purchase of equipment and training. It was sponsored by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, who has worked as a volunteer firefighter.

* Residential contractors who were licensed on or after Jan. 1, 2009, now will be required to complete eight hours of continuing education course work every two years. Active membership in a professional trade association, approved by the board, qualifies as four hours of continuing education annually. Proof of membership must be filed with the Tennessee Board for Licensing Contractors biennially. The new law requires provisions allowing both online and in-person training.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.

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