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NASHVILLE — As Tennessee's number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose Thursday, Gov. Bill Lee signed his second executive order that further deregulates the numbers of allowed hospital beds to free up more capacity while deregulating scope-of-practice laws to allow more health care professionals to treat patients.
It comes as the number of people with coronavirus in the Volunteer State shot up 54% from a day earlier. There are five people from Hamilton County confirmed as having COVID-19.
The governor's Executive Order 15 also seeks to expand the number of providers eligible to provide telemedicine by loosening regulations around the technology and geographic area. It also urges insurers to provide coverage for COVID-19.
"This executive order works to quickly boost our health care capacity, continue important consumer protections and provide enhanced customer service to our citizens during this pandemic," the administration said.
House Insurance Committee Chairwoman Robin Smith, R-Hixson, who is carrying legislation aimed at allowing more widespread use of telemedicine, applauded the Republican governor's move. Smith's bill was expected to pass the House and Senate Thursday night as lawmakers scramble to wrap up business and take an eight-week recess before weighing whether to come back June 1.
"Right now in [state law] the only thing that's covered by insurance — and that's under review — is from facility to facility," Smith said. "What we're doing with this [proposed] law is making the patient able to be in their place of work or on the road and the insurance can cover. And they're be interacting with their own doctor, not a doctor out of state."
Other provisions of Lee's executive order — his second in seven days — allow suspensions of state inspections of health facilities.
And effectively immediately, the Department of Safety is waiving its requirement that citizens appear in person and have new photographs for their driver licenses taken through October 1, 2021. It's intended to let many Tennesseans with expiring credentials renew online and not visit in person.
Non-U.S. citizens with temporary driver licenses (Class XD and XID) will still need to visit in person to renew those licenses upon expiration of the current license.
All driver licenses, learner permits, commercial driver licenses, photo identification licenses and handgun-carry permits that would expire between March 12, 2020, and May 19, 2020, will be extended for six months from the original expiration date. Safety Department officials will issue a letter of extension to the individuals affected. They will be required to keep the letter with them during the extension period.
Meanwhile, Lee has a pending request to the federal government to delay the Oct. 1 deadline to acquire a Real ID. Other provisions deal with crack down on price gouging of consumer foods and supplies.
Additional measures in the governor's Executive Order 15 suspend laws authorizing the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to conduct only name-based background checks on provider applicants and suspend fingerprint checks.
The state has 15,000 licensed, unused beds within Tennessee hospital capacity. The administration also says it has 537 unused ventilators. The Tennessee Department of Health ordered 570 additional ventilators on Wednesday.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.