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Attorneys General Address Three Major Challenges at Southern Region Meeting

By Hedda Litwin, NAAG Cyberspace Law Chief Counsel

Hedda Litwin, NAAG Cybercrime Counsel

Unique in its focus on three major themes, rather than the traditional single topic, the NAAG Southern Region Meeting, March 20-22, provided a forum for attorneys general to address major issues affecting consumer housing, healthcare and military personnel. The meeting, hosted in Nashville by Tennessee Attorney General and Southern Region Chair Robert E. Cooper, Jr., also covered intellectual property issues faced by the music industry.

The housing portion of the program centered on the National Mortgage Settlement, in which the attorneys general of 49 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government reached agreement in 2012 with five major banks and mortgage servicers, creating new servicing standards and providing loan modification relief to distressed homeowners. Joe Smith, National Mortgage Settlement monitor, updated the 65 meeting attendees—including seven attorneys general--on progress to date in the settlement implementation. He emphasized that there has been $45.83 billion in total consumer relief distributed at the end of the calendar year, with $24.698 billion supporting home ownership.

Turning to the second theme of healthcare, Darin Gordon, director of TennCare and the Division of Health Care Finance and Administration for Tennessee, led with a discussion on what attorneys general should know about their state Medicaid programs. He noted that health care fraud can account for as much as three to 10 percent of healthcare expenditures nationally. Gordon described the formation of Tennessee’s provider fraud task force and stressed the importance of including a data analytics unit in any such initiative. He was followed by John Graves, assistant professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, who provided insight into future trends in healthcare. Most notably, he emphasized that future healthcare systems will tie reimbursement to quality of care provided, and the country will move toward a system with built-in incentives.

The latter part of the conference was devoted to the third theme of assisting state citizens in the armed services and their families. Lt. Gen. Dana Chipman of the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps highlighted three major areas of concern on which he is currently focused: 1) sexual assault committed by servicemembers; 2) suicide of servicemembers, currently averaging one per day; and 3) rehabilitation of servicemembers with traumatic brain injuries and stress disorders. Attorneys general also heard from Holly Petraeus, assistant director of the Office of Servicemember Affairs in the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, who spoke about illegal foreclosures experienced by military homeowners, and thanked the attorneys general for negotiating the National Mortgage Settlement which did much to alleviate this problem. She also noted the development of new federal guidance for servicemembers on dealing with intimidating debt collection tactics.

Finally, in a nod to an issue of importance to Nashville, nicknamed “Music City,” Carlos Linares, vice president of Anti-Piracy Legal Affairs for the Recording Industry of America, spoke about the economic impact of illegal downloads, free streaming services and digital radio on the music industry, amounting to $7.5 billion per year. He explained initiatives the industry is undertaking to address these issues, including voluntary marketplace agreements and working with Internet service providers and payment processing organizations. He urged attorneys general to undertake intellectual property theft initiatives, citing the statewide enforcement training conducted by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood’s office. This plea for assistance was echoed by musicians performing for the meeting attendees at the Country Music Hall of Fame during an evening reception.

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