Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $1,900,000 in federal funding for three projects in Bland, Stuart, and Lee County, Virginia. The funding, courtesy of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), will go towards building a dental clinic in Bland, investing in downtown revitalization projects in Stuart, and improving water service to 38 homes in Lee County.

“Communities across Virginia have tremendous momentum, ideas, and initiative for projects that will improve their towns and grow their economies, and they often just need the resources to execute them,” said the senators. “We’re thrilled to see federal funding meet clear needs and bring better dental care, water service, and community improvement projects to life to help communities grow and thrive.”

The funding is broken down as follows:

  • $700,000 for the Town of Stuart to implement projects in their downtown revitalization plan by expanding the roof at the Stuart Farmers’ Market and building a 3,200 square foot “mega-deck” downtown to provide handicap accessibility to historic buildings, allow for outdoor programming, and connect the area to surrounding natural resources. Twenty-nine businesses in the area will benefit from this mega-deck.
  • $700,000 for the St. Charles Monarch Waterline Replacement project in Lee County. This project will replace 9,970 feet of aging waterline, install 4 gate valves, and place 1 fire hydrant, which will improve water service for 38 homes.  
  • $500,000 for the Bland Ministry Center and Dental Clinic in Bland. This will support the construction of a dental clinic with seven dental procedure rooms, sterilization space, and x-ray and denture labs. This new clinic will double capacity for dental service in Bland and surrounding counties, serving an additional 3,600 patients within three years and hiring seven additional staff members. 

Sens. Warner and Kaine have long supported efforts to improve clean water access across the Commonwealth, expand access to dental care, and invest in downtown revitalization. Recently, the senators announced over $62 million for water infrastructure upgrades across the Commonwealth, secured $1.25 million to construct a dental clinic in Wise County, and celebrated grants to support economic revitalization. Additionally, the senators are staunch advocates for full funding for the ARC. The bipartisan infrastructure law – legislation strongly supported by both Warner and Kaine – authorized an additional $1 billion for the ARC, allowing it to fund more projects across the Commonwealth.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Bill Casidy, M.D. (R-LA), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced legislation to ease access to supplemental oxygen for Medicare beneficiaries. The Supplemental Oxygen Access Reform (SOAR) Act of 2024 would establish a new payment methodology for non-liquid oxygen, allowing for most Medicare beneficiaries to be covered under the base payment levels.

“Respiratory care is lifesaving for so many patients, but too often access to this care is cost-prohibitive or simply not accessible. This legislation will ensure that supplemental oxygen is affordable and accessible for Medicare patients, allowing them to live the healthier, more active lives they deserve,” said Sen. Warner. 

“Patients who need supplemental oxygen often have other health problems. Making it easier to get their oxygen is one less thing they must worry about,” said Dr. Cassidy. 

“Supplemental oxygen is a life-sustaining treatment for individuals suffering from respiratory and heart diseases, and it should be accessible to patients who need it,” said Sen. Klobuchar. “This bipartisan legislation will protect access for seniors on Medicare who use supplemental oxygen both in and away from their homes.” 

The SOAR Act would:

  • Remove all oxygen and oxygen equipment from Medicare competitive bidding;
  • Establish a separate base payment rate for liquid oxygen with an add-on payment for liquid oxygen at 6 liters/minute and higher;
  • Create a new add-on to the supplemental oxygen rate to reimburse for respiratory therapist services when providing supplemental oxygen to Medicare beneficiaries; and
  • Establish protections for Medicare beneficiary supplemental oxygen users.

“Today is an important day that has been years in the making for the American Lung Association and so many of the people who we serve who rely on supplemental oxygen every day. Thanks to advancements in research and treatment, most people living with severe lung disease can live active lives. Unfortunately, too many people face challenges in getting the right type and levels of oxygen required to do day-to-day activities. This is why the SOAR Act is critical to the 1.5 million people in the U.S. who need supplemental oxygen. Thank you to Senators Bill Cassidy, Mark Warner and Amy Klobuchar for championing this legislation. The American Lung Association urges members of Congress to cosponsor and swiftly pass this truly life-changing bill,” said Harold Wimmer, American Lung Association President.

“For years, AARC has advocated for patient access to respiratory therapist care outside the acute care setting,” said Carl Hinkson MS, RRT-ACCS, NPS, FAARC, President of American Association for Respiratory Care. “AARC is proud to stand with the coalition in creating a future where supplemental oxygen is available and affordable and patients have access to expert care from a respiratory therapist to return to a fuller and healthier life.”

“Thousands of people living with serious lung and respiratory diseases are confined to their homes, struggling for each breath because they are unable to access the supplemental oxygen they need,” said Scott Staszak, Chief Operating Officer of the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation. “We applaud Senator Bill Cassidy, Senator Mark Warner and Senator Amy Klobuchar for their pivotal role in advancing crucial Oxygen Reform legislation to ensure that everyone will be able to breathe easier.”

“The SOAR Act represents a significant step towards ensuring comprehensive oxygen reform. The CQRC thanks Senators Cassidy, Warner and Klobuchar for their leadership on this bill and urges Congress to seize this opportunity and advance the SOAR Act without delay,” said Dan Starck, Interim Chair of the Council for Quality Respiratory Care. “This bipartisan legislation is a beacon of hope for patients, caregivers, healthcare providers, and communities, promising improved access to supplemental oxygen and respiratory therapy to safeguard and enhance health and quality of life.”

“As an association focused on improving care within chest medicine, we believe that access to oxygen is critical for many of our patients,” said Jack D. Buckley, MD, FCCP, President of the American College of the Chest Physicians. “This is one of the main advocacy pillars for our organization because it is so crucial to maintaining the quality of life for patients struggling with chronic lung disease. Without adequate access to oxygen, these patients have enormous difficulty with normal daily activities, such as traveling to the grocery store or getting to their next doctor’s appointment.”

“Many people living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, are struggling to lead more active and productive lives because Medicare policies unreasonably limit their access to supplemental oxygen therapy,” said Dr. Jean Wright, CEO of the COPD Foundation. “We are grateful to Senators Cassidy, Warner and Klobuchar for leading legislation to restore and update these critical services.”

“As president of the American Thoracic Society, I applaud Senator Bill Cassidy, Senator Mark Warner and Senator Amy Klobuchar for introducing the Supplemental Oxygen Access Reform Act – SOAR – to reform Medicare's reimbursement of supplemental oxygen. The current Medicare system for providing supplemental oxygen does not serve patient needs creating needless suffering. Patients have suffered from low quality equipment to supply their oxygen. They have suffered from insufficient support staff to fix problems with their oxygen service. They have suffered from being given big, bulky, heavy oxygen systems that prevent them from ever leaving their homes and being part of a larger community most of us take for granted. The legislation that Senators Cassidy, Warner and Klobuchar introduced today will reform Medicare's oxygen reimbursement system by ensuring patients get the oxygen system they truly need and not just the cheapest oxygen system available. I look forward to working with Senators Cassidy, Warner and Klobuchar to see this important legislation enacted by Congress,” said M. Patricia Rivera, MD, ATSF, President of the American Thoracic Society.

“The engaged Senate leaders introducing the Medicare Oxygen Payment Reform are undertaking a great need for patients with Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. We have heard firsthand many shocking personal stories about patients not properly matched or trained on the oxygen equipment they need to breathe each day. This legislation will improve outcomes for all oxygen dependent patients in the U.S. The Alpha-1 Foundation is proud share with our patients that the Senate is helping with a solution that includes access to patient equipment and education,” said Scott Santarella, President and CEO of the Alpha-1 Foundation.

 "We need to change the system to help Alpha-1 patients have greater access to respiratory therapists and the oxygen equipment they need to breathe.  I am grateful to Senator Warner for his leadership on this bill.  The patients who depend on oxygen in the state of Virginia and the entire United States will benefit from Senator Warner’s leadership.  As a constituent and an Alpha-1patient and oxygen user, I am extremely grateful.” Charles W. Frost, Virginia Alpha-1 patient.

The SOAR Act is supported by the American Lung Association, American Association for Respiratory Care, Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, Council for Quality Respiratory Care, American College of the Chest Physicians, COPD Foundation, American Thoracic Society, and Alpha-1 Foundation.

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 WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sponsored the Access to Family Building Act, which would establish a federal right to access in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and other assisted reproductive technology (ART) for all Americans who need it, pre-empting state efforts to limit access and helping ensure no hopeful parent – or their doctors – are punished for trying to start or grow a family.

“After the Supreme Court struck down decades of precedent in overturning Roe v. Wade, we’re seeing more and more extreme attacks on women’s health care and reproductive freedom,” said Sen. Warner. “Following the far right-wing ruling in Alabama’s Supreme Court, we have to act now to make sure IVF remains legal and accessible for Americans seeking to build their families.”

The Access to Family Building Act would:

  • Establish a statutory right for an individual to access, without prohibition or unreasonable limitation or interference, assisted reproductive technology services, such as IVF, and for a healthcare provider to provide ART services;
  • Establish an individual’s statutory right regarding the use or disposition of their reproductive genetic materials, including gametes;
  • Allow the Department of Justice to pursue civil action against any state, government official, individual or entity that violates protections in the legislation; and
  • Create a private right of action for individuals and healthcare providers in states that have limited access to ART.

A copy of the bill text is available here.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and bipartisan, bicameral lawmakers to urge the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to work with Congress to ensure Medicare beneficiaries maintain access to telehealth. Current pandemic-era flexibilities will expire on Dec. 31, 2024 without further action, forcing seniors to adapt to new care routines. In a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, the lawmakers underscored the urgent need to make pandemic-era telehealth flexibilities permanent. 

“We urge you to work with Congress to ensure that all Medicare beneficiaries have permanent access to telehealth services before the temporary waivers expire on December 31, 2024,” the lawmakers wrote. “Enacting permanent telehealth legislation will require collaboration between HHS and Congress in the year ahead. We urge you to communicate to Congress and the public the authorities, appropriations, resources, and other supports needed to achieve this goal.” 

“Telehealth is a cost-effective way to improve access to care, especially for rural and underserved communities,” the lawmakers continued. “Telehealth also allows patients to choose a medical provider that best suits their personal medical needs. Medicare beneficiaries have come to rely on expanded access to telehealth and are satisfied with the care they have received.”

Sen. Warner has consistently led efforts to expand telehealth accessibility. He is an original cosponsor and a tireless advocate for the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act, legislation that would expand coverage of telehealth services through Medicare and make permanent COVID-19 telehealth flexibilities. He has also introduced bipartisan legislation to increase access to telehealth services for individuals with substance use disorder and repeatedly pushed on the DEA to institute long-term flexibilities for the prescription of controlled substances via telehealth.

Joining Sens. Warner and Schatz in sending the letter were U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS), Ben Cardin (D-MD), John Thune (R-SD), and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), and U.S. Representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA-04), David Schweikert (R-AZ-01), Doris Matsui (D-CA-07), and Bill Johnson (R-OH-06).

A copy of the letter is available here and below.  

Dear Secretary Becerra: 

As 2024 begins, we urge you to work with Congress to ensure that all Medicare beneficiaries have permanent access to telehealth services before the temporary waivers expire on December 31, 2024. We appreciate the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) efforts to implement telehealth flexibilities that Congress authorized over the past four years. With the expiration of temporary waivers rapidly approaching, we strongly encourage you to make telehealth a priority. We stand ready to work with you to ensure Medicare beneficiaries maintain access to telehealth services.

Congress has recognized the critical role of telehealth in health care delivery by expanding coverage during and after the COVID-19 public health emergency. Most recently, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 extended several Medicare telehealth flexibilities through December 31, 2024. Among these was a provision allowing patients to use telehealth regardless of where they are located. These short-term extensions have been important to allow continuity of care and provide time for experts to evaluate the benefits of expanded telehealth services. The data is clear: Permanent policy is necessary, such as the policies in our consensus bipartisan bill, the CONNECT for Health Act.

Enacting permanent telehealth legislation will require collaboration between HHS and Congress in the year ahead. We urge you to communicate to Congress and the public the authorities, appropriations, resources, and other supports needed to achieve this goal. Ideal channels for these communications include the President’s Fiscal Year 2025 Budget, the Calendar Year (CY) 2025 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule, and upcoming testimonies before Congressional committees. We also request timely technical assistance and data sharing to support Congress’ legislative work. To address any outstanding implementation questions related to permanent policy, including those outlined in the CY 2024 Physician Fee Schedule, we strongly encourage you to solicit information from stakeholders.

This is a pivotal year for telehealth policy, and it is critical that we enact long-term legislation in 2024. Telehealth is a cost-effective way to improve access to care, especially for rural and underserved communities. Telehealth also allows patients to choose a medical provider that best suits their personal medical needs. Medicare beneficiaries have come to rely on expanded access to telehealth and are satisfied with the care they have received. We must provide patients and clinicians long-term certainty about access to care through telehealth. We appreciate your collaboration on this important issue and look forward to working with you to ensure access to telehealth services is available on a permanent basis.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), members of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced legislation to require Medicare Advantage plans to publicly report the supplemental benefits they offer and the extent to which beneficiaries use them, making sure that the program is using Medicare-funded benefits to better serve seniors. Specifically, the legislation would require Medicare Advantage plans report enrollee-level data on supplemental benefits to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), as well as report eligibility for benefits, the types of benefit categories offered, and data on utilization of and payments for such benefits.

“As more and more seniors turn to Medicare Advantage for their health coverage, it’s important that we properly evaluate the effectiveness of the program,” said Sen. Warner. “That’s why I introduced legislation to make Medicare Advantage data more readily available so that we can better evaluate plans in order to give seniors the best coverage for their needs and to ensure the sustainability of the Medicare program as a whole.”

In recent years, the use of Medicare Advantage has skyrocketed, with 39 percent of all Virginia Medicare beneficiaries and more than half of eligible beneficiaries nationwide choosing to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan. However, there is currently no statutory requirement to specifically report on supplemental benefits, making data on available benefits and their utilization unreliable. Sen. Warner’s legislation would ensure this data is available in order to understand beneficiary use of supplemental benefits and their impact on the sustainability of the Medicare program.

This legislation builds on Sen. Warner’s efforts to expand and protect healthcare access for Medicare beneficiaries, including through legislation like the Preserving Patient Access to Home Infusion Act and CHRONIC Care Act.

Full text of the bill is available here.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement regarding provisions to lower health care and energy costs that went into effect on January 1, 2024. These provisions were made possible by the Inflation Reduction Act, which was supported by the senators and passed in the Senate by one vote. These measures to lower costs come as the prices of hundreds of drugs are expected to rise this month.

“When we passed the Inflation Reduction Act, we knew that it would have tremendous benefits for communities across Virginia. We’re excited that key provisions from the law went into effect this year to help lower prescription drug and energy costs for millions of Americans. We look forward to Virginians continuing to see the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act in the years to come.”

The following provisions went into effect on January 1, 2024:

  • Lower Health Costs for Low-Income Americans: Americans with Medicare who have incomes up to 150% of the federal poverty line are now eligible for full benefits under the Part D Low-Income Subsidy (LIS) program, also known as “Extra Help.” The Extra Help program helps low-income Americans on Medicare cover their out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs. Virginians can apply for Extra Help through the Social Security Administration by going online, calling 1-800-772-1213, or visiting a local Social Security Office.
  • Lower Drug Costs for Millions of Medicare Recipients: Lower Drug Costs for Millions of Medicare Recipients: A provision in the IRA will make accessing medication more affordable for millions of Americans on Medicare who rely on expensive medications, often to treat chronic conditions. This IRA provision institutes a cap on prescription drug costs for seniors on Medicare Part D for the first time. 
  • Lower Premiums for More Than 500,000 Virginians: There are additional provisions that went into effect to limit annual premium increases for Americans, including more than 500,000 Virginians, enrolled in Medicare Part D.
  • Simplified Electric Vehicle (EV) Tax Credits: The IRA allows qualified individuals to get a tax credit up to $7,500 for the purchase of new EVs or a tax credit of up to $4,000 for certain used EVs and plug-in hybrids purchased through a dealership. Virginians who buy an EV from a participating dealer can now choose to receive their tax credit for that purchase at the point-of-sale instead of after filing their taxes.

More information about other key provisions from the Inflation Reduction Act that went into effect in 2023 is available here.

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 WASHINGTON– Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine—who serves on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee—released the following statements applauding Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi for officially lowering the cost of their insulin products to $35 per month for most patients. The companies’ moves, which came in 2023 for Eli Lilly and January 1, 2024 for Novo Nordisk and Sanofi, followed the implementation of provisions from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which both senators voted for and passed by one vote in the Senate, to incentivize drug manufacturers to slash prices.

“When we capped insulin at $35 a month for Medicare patients as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, we put pressure on big pharmaceutical companies to do the same, and we are seeing the impact,” said Sen. Warner. “As we start the New Year, millions of Americans are will pay less for the medication they need. As we move into 2024, the Senate Finance Committee will keep working on measures to lower drug prices and improve transparency for all Americans.”  

“I appreciate Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi’s decisions to step up to the plate with these $35 monthly insulin caps,” said Sen. Kaine. “No Virginian should have to ration the medication they need to stay alive. That’s why I was proud to vote for the Inflation Reduction Act, which passed in the Senate by one vote, to push drug manufacturers to lower the cost of lifesaving medications, including insulin. Making prescription drugs more affordable is one of my top priorities on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and I look forward to building on this progress.”

Specifically, the IRA set an out-of-pocket price cap for insulin at $35 per month for Americans covered by Medicare, and required drug companies to pay a rebate to the government if drug prices rise faster than inflation, spurring manufacturers to make similar changes to the cost of insulin for other patients who aren’t on Medicare.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, one in four people with private health insurance paid more than $35 per month for their insulin in 2018. The Kaiser Family Foundation also estimates than more than 5% of insulin users pay more than $150 per month for insulin. The American Diabetes Association found that diabetics account for $1 of every $4 spent on health care in the U.S.

The senators have long prioritized lowering the cost of and expanding the domestic supply chain for prescription drugs. Last year, Sens. Warner and Kaine announced the designation of the Richmond/Petersburg Advanced Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Tech Hub, which they supported to help ensure that critical pharmaceuticals, including insulin, are manufactured in America using innovative, cost-saving techniques. The senators repeatedly introduced legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate the best price of prescription drugs for seniors enrolled in Medicare Part D—a major cost-reducing measure that is now law thanks to the IRA.

Additionally, Warner, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, helped author the Modernizing and Ensuring PBM Accountability (MEPA) Act, bipartisan legislation approved by the Committee in July 2023 to help address rising prescription drug prices by regulating the middlemen who manage prescription drug benefits on behalf of health insurers. The Finance Committee also recently approved Warner-authored legislation to help lower-income seniors enroll in Medicare.

Kaine has led the introduction of the Medicare-X Choice Act, which would improve health care coverage and lower costs for Americans, and cosponsored legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug costs for seniors. 2023, Kaine worked with Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Roger Marshall (R-KS) to introduce the Delinking Revenue from Unfair Gouging (DRUG) Act to lower drug costs and prevent massive Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) from price gouging consumers. Last month, Kaine and Marshall led a bipartisan group of senators in urging the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Labor (DOL), and the Department of the Treasury to lower out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs by enforcing a rule limiting the use of harmful “copay accumulators.”  

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), John Fetterman (D-PA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) and U.S. Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA-3) in introducing the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act, which would help miners who have suffered from black lung disease and their survivors access the workers’ compensation they are entitled to receive under the Black Lung Benefits Program. This legislation would remove barriers that prevent miners and their survivors from accessing their benefits such as lengthy processing times, lack of a legal representative, and inflation. 

“For generations, coal miners across Virginia have made tremendous sacrifices to power America, literally risking their lives and their health to electrify our nation,” said Senator Warner. “Miners living with black lung and their survivors need easy access to the benefits they’ve earned – but far too often, red tape gets in the way. The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act would take important steps to make sure miners can access legal representation, have protection against inflation, and more so America can keep making good on the debt it owes to victims of black lung.”

“Many of our nation’s miners have developed black lung disease, and we owe it to them to provide them with the care and support they need,” said Senator Kaine. “The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act is critical to helping more miners, miner retirees, and their families receive the benefits and compensation they’ve earned following their tremendous sacrifices.”

Many miners have developed coal workers’ pneumoconiosis—commonly referred to as “black lung”—a debilitating and deadly disease caused by the long-term inhalation of coal dust in underground and surface coal mines. In response, Congress passed the Black Lung Benefits Act in 1976 to provide monthly compensation and medical coverage for coal miners who develop black lung disease and are disabled. The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act makes needed updates to ensure Congress is fulfilling its commitment to the Nation’s coal miners by: 

  • Restoring cost-of-living benefit increases for black lung beneficiaries and ensuring cost-of-living increases are never withheld in the future,
  • Helping miners and their survivors secure legal representation by providing interim attorney fees for miners that prevail at various stages of their claim,
  • Allowing miners or their survivors to reopen their cases if they had been wrongly denied benefits because of errors in medical interpretations, and
  • Prohibiting unethical conduct by attorneys and doctors in the black lung claims process, such as withholding evidence of black lung, and helping miners review and rebut potentially biased or inaccurate medical evidence developed by coal companies.

 

Warner and Kaine have long worked to support miners and their families. The Senate-passed draft of the Fiscal Year 2024 government funding bill includes $12.19 million in federal funding for black lung clinics, which the senators are working to ensure is included in the final version of the bill. The Inflation Reduction Act, which the senators helped pass, included a permanent extension of the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund’s excise tax at a higher rate, providing certainty for miners, miner retirees, and their families who rely on the fund to access benefits. This followed Warner and Kaine’s successful efforts to ensure that miners receive the pensions and health care they earned. In July, the senators reintroduced the Relief for Survivors of Miners Act, which would ease restrictions to make it easier for miners’ survivors to successfully claim benefits. Warner and Kaine also urged the Biden Administration to issue new silica standards to protect miners across America – a push that helped contribute towards the release of those standards.

A one-pager on the bill is available here.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in introducing the Telehealth Response for E-prescribing Addiction Therapy Services (TREATS) Act, legislation that would increase access to telehealth services for individuals with substance use disorder (SUD). During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) temporarily removed an in-person exam requirement for providers to prescribe SUD treatments. This change expanded access to care and reduced the risk of overdose, but it is set to expire at the end of next year. The TREATS Act would make this flexibility permanent.

“Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic we learned valuable lessons in how to adapt our health care system in order to better care for patients, including the successful treatment of patients with opioid addiction using telehealth services,” said Sen. Warner.  “The TREATS Act would make permanent commonsense, safe telehealth practices that will expand care options for those battling with substance use disorder.”

“Telehealth has helped many Virginians get the health care they need, including access to treatments for substance use disorder,” said Sen. Kaine. “By permanently allowing doctors to prescribe life-saving treatments via telehealth, the TREATS Act would better support individuals in recovery and help reduce the risk of overdoses.”

In 2021, 2,622 Virginians died from overdose, averaging seven Virginians per day. Despite strong evidence that medication is the most effective treatment for SUD, only one in five Americans with SUD receive medication treatment that would help them quit and stay in recovery. The TREATS Act would make life-saving medication like buprenorphine more accessible and save lives.

Joining the senators in cosponsoring this legislation are Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), and Cory Booker (D-NJ). U.S. Representatives David Trone (D-MD-6), Jay Obernolte (R-CA-23), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-1) led the introduction of the legislation in the House. 

Full text of the bill is available here.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), John Thune (R-SD), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Todd Young (R-IN) today introduced two pieces of bipartisan legislation that would protect Americans’ privacy and remove burdensome and bureaucratic reporting requirements in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) by allowing certain communications to be electronically filed. Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed companion legislation for the Employer Reporting Improvement Act and the Paperwork Burden Reduction Act.

“The Affordable Care Act was a seismic achievement in expanding access to health care, but it’s still incumbent on Congress to make sure it’s working as smoothly as possible for the Americans and businesses that it serves,” said Sen. Warner. “These two bipartisan bills will take important steps forward to modernize and streamline compliance requirements while protecting privacy, so that more Americans and employers can access and deploy benefits without getting entangled in red tape.” 

“Small businesses in South Dakota and across the country have been forced to comply with overly burdensome administrative requirements from the Affordable Care Act,” said Sen. Thune. “These bills would eliminate convoluted paperwork and streamline the current reporting requirements to ensure businesses can focus their resources on serving their customers and employees.”

“We need to make it as easy as possible for Nevada businesses to provide workers with high-quality health care without forcing them to jump through unnecessary hoops,” said Sen. Cortez Masto. “Our bipartisan bills will reduce unnecessary paperwork burdening businesses, and I will continue working to cut through red tape and help Nevadans access high quality health care.”

“Under current law, overreaching compliance requirements create uncertainty and stress for employers in Indiana and across the nation. Our bipartisan bills will help reduce these unnecessary burdens and increase efficiency,” said Sen. Young.

The Employer Reporting Improvement Act would protect Americans’ privacy and ease compliance burdens on employers. Among other steps, it would modernize communication by allowing employers to electronically file certain documents. It would also protect privacy by clarifying that the IRS can accept full names and dates of birth in lieu of dependents’ and spouses’ Social Security numbers. In addition, it would ease compliance burdens by extending the time period (from 30 days to 90 days) during which an applicable large employer can appeal a penalty for not offering adequate, affordable health insurance to all full-time employees. Finally, it would enact a six-year statute of limitations for the IRS to levy penalties under the Employer Shared Responsibility provision of the ACA.

The Paperwork Burden Reduction Act would reduce the number of physical forms that employers have to mail to employees as part of complying with the ACA. Currently, employers and health insurance providers that provide minimum essential coverage must report this information to the IRS for each covered individual and provide a copy of this information to the covered individual (through 1095-B or 1095-C tax forms, depending on the coverage type) by January 31 of each year. Current IRS regulations allow employers to provide only 1095-B forms electronically. The Paperwork Burden Reduction Act would codify the current IRS policy by allowing the 1095-B to be provided electronically and would extend this to 1095-C, limiting unnecessary physical paperwork.

“The Partnership for Employer-Sponsored Coverage (P4ESC) applauds introduction of the Employer Reporting Improvement Act and the Paperwork Burden Reduction Act in the Senate. We thank the bill’s bipartisan sponsors, Senators Warner, Thune, Cortez Masto, and Young. We are particularly grateful to Senator Warner, who has championed this issue ever since the Affordable Care Act became law. P4ESC hopes that 2023 finally will be the year ACA reporting gets fixed,” said Neil Trautwein, P4ESC’s Executive Director.

“The IRS’s employer reporting requirements offer a significant, complex challenge to Virginia small businesses and employees. With new legislation, Congress can take immediate action to relieve employers and employees of this annual reporting burden and unintended tax implications. We thank Senator Warner and his colleagues for advancing bipartisan, streamlined solutions with these bills,” said Eric Terry, President, Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association.

“We commend Senators Thune, Warner, Young, and Cortez Masto for introducing the Employer Reporting Improvement Act in the Senate. This is a breath of fresh air that small businesses desperately need. By allowing electronic filing of essential documents and promoting flexibility, this legislation slices through bureaucratic barriers, protecting small businesses from being overly exposed to unwarranted fines. It's not just about reducing unnecessary paperwork; it’s about empowering small business owners with the flexibility they need to better support their valued employees,” said Josselin Castillo, Manager of Federal Government Relations, National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). “The Paperwork Reduction Act, introduced by Senators Warner, Young, Cortez Masto, and Thune, takes a significant step towards providing relief for small business owners from unnecessary red tape. By offering alternative reporting methods, this legislation reduces cumbersome red tape and drives efficiency. This legislation promotes badly needed flexibility and streamlines operations, lowering costs and helping small employers focus on what they do best, running their businesses and supporting their employees.”

Full text of the Employer Reporting Improvement Act is available here. Full text of the Paperwork Burden Reduction Act is available here. 

 

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Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, John Cornyn (R-TX), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) launched a bipartisan working group to examine and propose potential legislative solutions in the HELP Committee jurisdiction to strengthen cybersecurity in the health care and public health sector. This effort comes at a time of record cybersecurity attacks on health care entities. Health records, unlike other personal records like credit card numbers, are more valuable on the black market since health conditions are permanent and cannot be reissued.  

According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a record 89 million Americans have already had their health information breached, more than double since last year. These cyberattacks severely impact health care operations, costing an average of $10 million per breach and leading to an interruption or long-term delay in care. Last year in Louisiana, hackers compromised almost 270,000 personal records, including health information. 

“As Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I am acutely aware of the most serious threats facing our country, and I know that shoring up our cybersecurity is one of the best tools we have to protect ourselves and our sensitive materials. In no industry is this more obvious and important than health care, where such care is increasingly connected and even a brief period of interruption can have life and death consequences. I am proud to launch this bipartisan group to build on the policy options I have been exploring and better improve our cybersecurity through legislative fixes,” said Sen. Warner.  

“We are seeing a disturbing rise in cyberattacks on our health care system. These attacks not only put patients’ sensitive health data at risk but can delay life-saving care,” said Dr. Cassidy. “Just like a strong military and police force defends us against physical attacks, we must ensure health institutions can safeguard against increasing cyber threats and protect Americans’ crucial health data.” 

“Cyberattacks on health care organizations threaten the security of patients’ private medical information and can interrupt the delivery of critical care,” said Sen. Cornyn. “I am eager to join my colleagues in looking for solutions that shield our health care institutions and Americans from these dangerous crimes.” 

“Hospitals and doctor’s offices are increasingly facing cyberattacks that threaten to expose patients’ medical information and even shut down ERs,” said Sen. Hassan. “This is a particularly pressing challenge for rural doctors and hospitals, which often don’t have the resources necessary to protect against these threats. I am glad to join this bipartisan working group to find effective, commonsense ways to protect medical providers and patients from cyberattacks.” 

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) selected two projects in Virginia as part of the first phase of EDA’s Regional Tech Hubs Program.

The Tech Hubs Program, made possible by the CHIPS and Science Act, bipartisan legislation strongly supported by both senators, aims to strengthen U.S. economic and national security by investing in regions across the country that have the assets, resources, and potential to become globally competitive innovation centers focused on the technologies and industries of the future. Specifically, this U.S. Department of Commerce program brings together diverse public, private, and academic partners into collaborative consortia focused on driving inclusive regional growth. With their existing innovation assets as a foundation, these Tech Hubs are envisioned to build the workforce of the future, enable businesses to start and scale, and deploy and deliver critical and emerging technologies.

In the Richmond/Petersburg region, the Advanced Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Tech Hub was designated as one of 31 inaugural Tech Hubs in regions across the country that show potential for rapid growth in key technology sectors. Led by the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, this consortium will ensure that critical pharmaceuticals are manufactured here in America by employing regional assets, scientific capacities, and public and private investment to accelerate the growth, innovation, and sustainability of the U.S.-based pharmaceutical manufacturing industry. This comes as increasing overseas manufacturing creates supply chain vulnerabilities and difficulties in pharmaceutical quality regulation and monitoring. The designation of the Richmond/Petersburg region as a Tech Hub builds off last year’s award of $52.9 million from the EDA’s Regional Challenge program to the Virginia Advanced Pharma Manufacturing (APM) Cluster, led by the Virginia Biotechnology Research Partnership Authority and located in the Richmond/Petersburg region. That award, dedicated to expanding the domestic supply chain for essential medicines and critical active pharmaceutical ingredients, was made possible by the American Rescue Plan that the senators voted for and by the senators’ efforts to advocate directly for the project.

“The CHIPS and Science Act continues to deliver significant wins for Virginia, supporting the creation of an Advanced Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Tech Hub in the Richmond-Petersburg region. I was proud to support this project, which will help make the Richmond-Petersburg region a critical hub for the manufacturing of advanced pharmaceuticals. Today’s announcement will help boost the American pharmaceutical industry while creating 21st century jobs for Virginians,” said Sen. Warner.

“Manufacturing critical medicines, including insulin, in America is good for patients, our workers, our economy, and the stability of our supply chains. That’s why I’ve worked for decades to boost our biotechnology sector in the Richmond region. I helped form and grow the Virginia Biotechnology Research Partnership Authority, a leader of this project, while I was on Richmond City Council, served on the Authority’s board while I was Richmond’s mayor, and appointed its board members while I was governor. Now as Senator, I worked to secure funding from the American Rescue Plan for the project and pushed to make this competitive Tech Hub designation possible. I’ll keep working to advance this critical economic development project for Central Virginia,” said Sen. Kaine. 

This designation is part of the first phase of the novel Tech Hubs program that will invest directly in high-potential U.S. regions and aim to transform them into globally competitive innovation centers. Designation is an endorsement of the region’s strategy to supercharge their respective technological industry to create jobs and strengthen U.S. economic and national security. Designated Tech Hubs are now eligible to apply for the next phase of the Tech Hubs Program that will invest between $50 and $75 million in each of 5-10 Designated Hubs. The consortium was selected from 198 applications from regional consortia that include industry, academia, state and local governments, economic development organizations, and labor and workforce partners. The Tech Hubs span regions across 32 states and Puerto Rico and represent a cross section of urban and rural regions.

In the New River Valley and Danville, the Virginia Additive Manufacturing and Applied Materials Strategy Development Consortium was awarded a Strategic Development Grant, which will go towards advancing a regional strategy based in the New River Valley to develop and deploy additive manufacturing system technologies for heavy industry to re-shore manufacturing and to strengthen domestic supply chain resilience. 

“Today’s selection of Virginia’s Additive Manufacturing and Applied Materials Strategy Development Consortium as a Tech Hubs Strategy Development Grant recipient is great news for the New River Valley, Southside, and for the Commonwealth as a whole.  I am proud to have supported this application and look forward to continuing the growth of the regions’ innovation economy,” said Sen. Warner. “The CHIPS & Science Act, which I was proud to author and lead through Congress, continues to bring high-paying, competitive jobs to Virginia.”

“Last month, I visited MELD manufacturing in Christiansburg and saw up close the strength of Virginia’s Additive Manufacturing and Applied Materials Strategy Development Consortium. Today’s exciting announcement by the U.S. Department of Commerce is a recognition of the incredible work Virginians have already accomplished through this partnership, and their great potential for job creation in the future. As Seapower Chair on the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am particularly impressed with how these innovations will enhance our national security. I will continue to do all that I can to support economic development in the New River Valley and applaud the innovators there that keep Virginia at the cutting-edge,” said Sen. Kaine.

Led by the New River Valley Regional Commission, this consortium will leverage the grant to increase local coordination and planning activities to strengthen the region’s capacity to manufacture, commercialize, and deploy technologies critical to U.S. economic and national security. This consortium was selected for a grant from a competitive pool of 181 applications.

The mission of the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) is to lead the federal economic development agenda by promoting competitiveness and preparing the nation’s regions for growth and success in the worldwide economy. An agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, EDA invests in communities and supports regional collaboration in order to create jobs for U.S. workers, promote American innovation, and accelerate long-term sustainable economic growth.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded the announcement that all 10 drug manufacturers whose drugs were selected for price negotiation with Medicare have agreed to participate in the Inflation Reduction Act’s Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Program. The Inflation Reduction Act, which the senators helped pass last year, allows the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) to negotiate prescription drug prices for the first time in history, which will help lower costs for millions of Americans. 

In August, CMS announced the first 10 drugs covered under Medicare Part D—among the costliest for the Medicare program without generic competition—that will be eligible for the program. The drug manufacturers had until October 1 to decide whether to participate in negotiations or face penalties. Nationwide, Medicare enrollees covered under Part D paid a total of $3.4 billion in out-of-pocket costs in 2022 for these 10 drugs. In Virginia, Medicare Part D enrollees have more than 193,000 active prescriptions for these 10 medications. 

“Too many Americans aren’t able to afford the medications they need, and that’s why we fought to include a provision in the Inflation Reduction Act to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices,” said the senators. “Today’s announcement that all 10 drug manufacturers will participate in the Inflation Reduction Act’s drug price negotiation program is a positive step towards lowering prescription drug costs for millions of seniors. We’re glad that the program continues to progress and look forward to seeing its full impacts in the years ahead.”

Under the law, CMS will negotiate directly with drug companies, and the first set of negotiated prices will go into effect on January 1, 2026. CMS will then select up to 15 more Part D drugs eligible for negotiation for 2027 and will continue to build on this progress in subsequent years by negotiating prices of more prescription drugs. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that the drug price negotiation program will lower Medicare spending by $98.5 billion over 10 years.

Warner and Kaine have championed policies to lower the cost of prescription drugs and long fought to allow CMS and to negotiate drug prices for those on Medicare. The senators repeatedly introduced legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate the best price of prescription drugs for seniors enrolled in Medicare Part D. Additionally, Warner, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, helped author the Modernizing and Ensuring PBM Accountability (MEPA) Act, bipartisan legislation approved by the Committee in July 2023 to help address rising prescription drug prices by regulating the middlemen who manage prescription drug benefits on behalf of health insurers and which included key provisions authored by Warner. 

Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee, previously introduced legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices for Medicare Exchange plans, created under his Medicare-X Choice Act, and the Medicare Part D program. In May 2019, he gave a speech on the Senate floor highlighting stories from Virginians from Martinsville, Norfolk, Arlington, and Virginia Beach who have been hurt by the high cost of prescription drugs and calling for reforms to bring drug prices down. In May 2023, he voted to pass the bipartisan Pharmacy Benefit Manager Reform Act, legislation to lower drug costs, out of the HELP Committee. He has also authored and cosponsored bills to strengthen the pipeline and increase transparency for critical medicines and more efficiently usher drugs to the market by making key improvements to the Food and Drug Administration’s review process for interchangeable biosimilars.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, joined Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) in calling on the Biden Administration to swiftly enact and continue to strengthen a proposed rule to limit the availability of short-term limited duration insurance (STLDI) plans, which are commonly referred to as “junk plans.” Junk plans provide inadequate coverage and deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

In July, following pressure from Sens. Warner, Kaine, and their colleagues, the Biden Administration released new draft regulations to roll back a 2018 Trump Administration effort that made junk plans more widely available to consumers. Since 2018, these plans have continued to proliferate. However, they are not required to adhere to important standards, including protections for people with pre-existing conditions and coverage for essential health benefits like maternity care or mental health services. Once finalized, the Biden Administration’s rule will restore a 90-day limit on the use of junk plans, instead of the current four-year maximum, so they can only be used on a temporary basis as intended, such as when people are transitioning from one plan to another.

In a letter to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Department of Labor Acting Secretary Julie Su, and Department of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the senators urged the Biden Administration to swiftly enact the proposed rule, continue to strengthen protections, and increase transparency on junk plans to protect Americans from this inadequate coverage. 

“We applaud your efforts to protect Americans who may have been duped into these junk plans, and urge the Biden Administration to swiftly finalize the rule and bolster our collective efforts to expand access to affordable, comprehensive health coverage,” wrote the senators. “With this new proposal, the Biden Administration is taking action to better protect consumers and promote access to affordable, comprehensive health insurance.”

In addition to expressing support for the Biden Administration’s proposed rule, the senators urged administration leaders to take further measures to protect consumers as they finalize the new rule on STLDI plans, including cracking down on the practice of “stacking,” or repeatedly enrolling the same consumer in junk plans across different issuers. The senators also called on the Biden Administration to bring greater transparency to junk plans through disclosure and reporting requirements and to consider additional protections for individuals shopping for coverage during the annual Open Enrollment period, which is set to begin November 1.

“For too long, junk plans were able to proliferate unchecked, resulting in increased exposure to financial harm for consumers. By finally limiting the duration of these plans and providing better protections for consumers, we are helping ensure that when families spend their hard-earned dollars on health insurance, they get the high-quality coverage they deserve,” concluded the senators.

Joining Sens. Warner, Kaine, Baldwin, Sanders, and Wyden in signing the letter were Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-PA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NM), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Peter Welch (D-VT).

A full version of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Secretaries Becerra, Su, and Yellen:

We write in support of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Labor, and the Department of the Treasury’s (collectively, the Departments’) long-awaited proposal to address short-term limited duration insurance (STLDI) plans. In 2018, the previous administration sought to sabotage the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by expanding access to STLDI plans that can deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions and fail to provide adequate health care coverage when Americans need it most. While STLDI plans have their purpose, such plans provide junk coverage when compared to high-quality, comprehensive coverage. We applaud your efforts to protect Americans who may have been duped into these junk plans, and urge the Biden Administration to swiftly finalize the rule and bolster our collective efforts to expand access to affordable, comprehensive health coverage.

In 2018, regulations issued by the previous administration rewrote the definition of STDLI coverage, allowing these plans to expand their term of coverage from three months to 364 days with the option to renew for up to three years. Unlike marketplace plans, STLDI plans are not required to comply with consumer protections that limit out-of-pocket costs or coverage of essential health benefits, including mental health services, treatment for substance-use disorder, prescription drugs, and maternity care. Furthermore, these plans engage in discriminatory practices, such as retroactive coverage rescissions, medical underwriting, and lifetime and annual caps, which were commonplace before the ACA. Since 2018, many consumers shopping for coverage may not have understood that they were buying a plan that puts them at risk for pre-existing conditions and coverage gaps.

With this new proposal, the Biden Administration is taking action to better protect consumers and promote access to affordable, comprehensive health insurance. We appreciate the Department’s efforts to hold true to a definition of “short-term” that is just that – short term. STLDI policies were originally intended to temporarily fill gaps in coverage while people transition between jobs or when students were required to disenroll from student health coverage over the summer months. As such, we believe these plans should be strictly limited to three months without the option for extensions.

We also strongly support the proposal to prevent insurance companies or brokers from repeatedly enrolling the same consumer in STLDI coverage, a practice known as “stacking,” and request that the Administration do more to prohibit stacking of STLDI plans across different issuers. In addition, as we continue to ensure that Americans have access to affordable coverage, it is critically important for Congress, state regulators, researchers, stakeholders, and federal departments to understand the true impact of the junk insurance market on the ACA marketplaces and other forms of high-quality coverage. As a part of this rulemaking, we strongly urge the agencies to implement policies that would bring greater transparency to these products including disclosure and reporting requirements for intermediary entities such as brokers, associations, and lead generators.

Finally, we urge the Administration to consider additional protections for individuals who may be shopping for coverage during the ACA’s annual Open Enrollment (OE) period.

Fraudsters, always looking for opportunities to take advantage of consumers, are enrolling individuals into plans without their consent, and numerous studies have documented the use of deceptive and misleading marketing to lure consumers into junk plans. We urge the Departments to proactively work with state insurance commissioners to address misleading marketing practices. High-quality insurance coverage is now more affordable than ever before thanks to the enhanced premium tax credits passed as part of the American Rescue Plan Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, as well as the Administration’s efforts to fix the “family glitch” which eliminated the subsidy cliff that impacted over five million Americans. It is our responsibility to ensure that the OE period, which is set to begin on November 1, is as successful as possible in promoting access to high-quality, affordable coverage.

For too long, junk plans were able to proliferate unchecked, resulting in increased exposure to financial harm for consumers. By finally limiting the duration of these plans and providing better protections for consumers, we are helping ensure that when families spend their hard-earned dollars on health insurance, they get the high-quality coverage they deserve.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and John Thune (R-SD) led a group of colleagues in a letter to Anne Milgram, Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), expressing support for the agency’s new engagement on a potential special registration for telehealth but sharing serious concerns over the agency’s proposed rules on the future of prescribing controlled substances via telehealth. Despite efforts by Sen. Warner to ensure continued access to telehealth services following the end of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE), the DEA’s rules as proposed would drastically affect patient care.

Joining Sens. Warner and Thune in this letter are U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK).

At the start of the pandemic, the DEA acted swiftly to take advantage of exceptions detailed in the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act that allowed the agency to waive in-person requirements for prescribing controlled substances in the case of a Public Health Emergency (PHE). With the expiration of the COVID-19 PHE earlier this year, however, the DEA announced a proposed rule detailing their plans for prescribing these medications via telehealth going forward that would limit the ability of doctors to prescribe controlled substances without an in-person visit and place unnecessary requirements on care providers. The proposed rule would only allow a 30-day supply of a schedule III-V non-narcotic medication prior to an in-person medical evaluation, and would not permit any initial supply for schedule II or schedule III-V narcotic medication.

The senators wrote, “Although we appreciate the limited flexibilities proposed by the rule, they are insufficient to meet the health care needs of our constituents and the needs of the providers who care for them. We support the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) extending the full set of telehealth flexibilities through November 2023 and are encouraged by the upcoming public listening sessions on the proposed regulations. We urge the DEA to consider feedback from health care stakeholders and apply the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure patients maintain access to care through telehealth, while still minimizing diversion and fraud.”

Highlighting the difficulty patients have scheduling in-person appointments, the senators continued, “We have concerns about our constituents’ ability to obtain in-person appointments within 30 days of starting a new medication, and the potential consequences to their health of starting a new medication and abruptly ending it should they not be able to obtain such an appointment. It takes on average 26 days to schedule a new patient appointment with a health care provider. Therefore, a 30-day supply could result in patients going without their medication while they wait for an in-person appointment or will turn to higher-acuity and higher-cost settings of in-person care to meet this deadline, such as emergency departments.” 

The senators also called attention to a rule Congress created as part of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act that requires the DEA create a registration for telemedicine practitioners who would not be subject to mandatory in-person medical evaluations. The goal of this special registration is to allow medical evaluations over telehealth more broadly, which the senators state this DEA rule does not accomplish.

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, tremendous progress was made to ensure that patients could receive care without interruption. Reinstating these hard limits on telehealth would be taking a step backwards, and have serious impacts on the care options for thousands of patients. Sen. Warner has consistently led efforts to expand telehealth accessibility, introducing legislation to expand telehealth services and repeatedly calling on congressional leadership to extend telehealth services after the end of the pandemic.

 

A copy of the letter is available here and text is below:

 

Dear Administrator Milgram:

 

On behalf of our constituent patients, health care providers, and pharmacists, we’re writing to share strong concerns with the notice of proposed rulemaking on the future of controlled substances prescribing over telehealth. Although we appreciate the limited flexibilities proposed by the rule, they are insufficient to meet the health care needs of our constituents and the needs of the providers who care for them. We support the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) extending the full set of telehealth flexibilities through November 2023 and are encouraged by the upcoming public listening sessions on the proposed regulations. We urge the DEA to consider feedback from health care stakeholders and apply the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure patients maintain access to care through telehealth, while still minimizing diversion and fraud.

 

Proposed Rule

As you know, the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008 (“Ryan Haight Act”) offered seven exceptions to the in-person medical evaluation requirement when providers are engaged in the “practice of telemedicine;” a public health emergency is one such exception, and we’re grateful the DEA moved swiftly to utilize that exception during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

However, we are concerned that the proposed rule undermines the gains made during the PHE that saw expanded access to critical health care services through telehealth

 

Initial supply: Prior to an in-person medical evaluation, the proposed rule permits a DEA-registered prescriber to provide an initial 30-day supply of a controlled substance for non-narcotic schedule III-V medications. We have concerns about our constituents’ ability to obtain in-person appointments within 30 days of starting a new medication, and the potential consequences to their health of starting a new medication and abruptly ending it should they not be able to obtain such an appointment. It takes on average 26 days to schedule a new patient appointment with a health care provider. Therefore, a 30-day supply could result in patients going without their medication while they wait for an in-person appointment or will turn to higher-acuity and higher-cost settings of in-person care to meet this deadline, such as emergency departments.

 

Despite the 180-day grace period after the end of the PHE, new and existing patients will be seeking in-person appointments simultaneously in a health care system that is already burdened by a shortage of health care providers. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 163 million Americans live in Mental Health Care Health Professional Shortage Areas.  Approximately 8,200 additional psychiatrists would be needed nationwide just to remove this shortage designation.  Nationwide averages also obscure the variation among states and territories; for example, Arizona has only 8.5% of its psychiatric health care needs met and would need 227 psychiatrists to meet 100% of these needs.  And beyond mental health care, 100 million Americans live in Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Areas, with more than 17,000 primary care providers needed at a minimum to remove the designation. 

 

Medical societies representing health care providers and their patients nationwide have encouraged a window of longer than 30 days for an initial prescription in order to provide enough time to obtain an appointment: the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Psychiatric Association recommend 180 days, with the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) urging no less a 90-day maximum when the provider believes it is appropriate. In addition, the AMA and the AAMC recommend that existing patients have one year to fulfill the in-person appointment requirement.

 

Provider safety: The proposed rule requires the prescribing provider to report their physical address at the time of the telemedicine appointment. Health care providers have shared they sometimes do telemedicine appointments from their home and have safety and privacy concerns with their home address being on the prescription. We urge you to allow providers to use the business address of their DEA registration.

 

Referrals:

  • Referring providers: The proposed rule requires that an in-person medical evaluation be performed by a DEA-registered provider before a referral to another DEA-registered provider who would be permitted to prescribe a controlled substance over telehealth. We are concerned that individuals without adequate in-person access to a DEA-registered provider will see their health care treatment options limited should they be referred to a specialist for a telehealth appointment, or instead a second in-person medical evaluation would be required with a DEA-registered provider prior to seeing a specialist, which would increase costs to the patient and the health care system as a whole. We urge you to work with health care providers to ensure patients do not encounter any truly unnecessary barriers to care.  
  • Prescribing practitioner: The proposed rule requires a referring provider to specifically include the name and National Provider Identifier (NPI) of the prescribing practitioner to which the referring prescriber is referring the patient. In practice, patients are often referred to a group practice where they see whichever specialist has a first available appointment. Or, referrals may not have a provider indicated at all, as the patient often has to explore insurance network coverage and new patient availability. This requirement may prevent patients from receiving the legitimate health care services they need.

 

Recordkeeping: Finally, we have heard widespread concerns about additional recordkeeping and other administrative burdens required from providers and pharmacies. This additional administrative burden will strain an already exhausted workforce could also deter providers from being able to provide this care. Stakeholders have shared that existing recordkeeping requirements should be sufficient for the purpose of DEA being able to combat diversion and fraud, and we encourage you to work with providers on the least burdensome path forward.

 

Special Registration

In addition to the PHE exception to the Ryan Haight Act discussed above, Congress also created a “special registration” exception, not as an option for DEA to utilize but a requirement to do so most recently in the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (“SUPPORT Act”). We do not believe this NPRM fulfills DEA’s obligation to create a special registration.

 

Congress envisioned this special registration to allow certain health care providers to be cleared and registered to use their clinical judgment when a medical examination can be done over telehealth for the purposes of a controlled substances prescription. DEA envisioned this to be the case, as well: in the preamble to Ryan Haight Act implementation regulations, DEA wrote:

 

“Special registration for telemedicine—a practitioner who is engaged in the practice of telemedicine within the meaning of the Act is not subject to the mandatory in-person medical evaluation requirement of 21 U.S.C. 829(e) (although such practitioner remains subject to the requirement that all prescriptions for controlled substances be issued for a legitimate medical purpose.”

 

Although we appreciate DEA not requiring a special registration for the initial prescriptions currently proposed, we are concerned that the proposed rule does not include the special registration directed to be created by Congress and even envisioned by the DEA. However, we are pleased to see DEA recently indicate further consideration of a special registration process that would allow clinicians to prescribe a controlled substance via telemedicine without an in-person visit. We appreciate the continuation of the comment process via public listening sessions, and encourage the DEA to review and incorporate stakeholders’ feedback in future rulemaking related to telemedicine prescribing.

 

In addition to allowing qualified health care providers to determine when a medical evaluation over telehealth is appropriate, a special registration would also provide a framework to evaluate the appropriateness of certain prescribers having the ability to prescribe over telehealth medications not covered by the post-COVID-19 proposed rule, namely Schedule II medications and Schedule III-V narcotic medications.

 

Health care providers across the board continue to ask for a special registration process that would provide a pathway for certain providers to provide more care involving controlled substances over telehealth than the proposed rule allows, and we implore DEA to follow its statutory requirements under the Ryan Haight Act and the SUPPORT Act and do just that.

 

Thank you for your consideration of these concerns, and we look forward to continuing to work with you on these important issues.

                       

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WASHINGTON– Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $939,669 in federal funding to help people in recovery from substance use disorder rejoin the workforce in Southwest Virginia. The funding was awarded by the Appalachian Regional Commission’s Investments Supporting Partnerships in Recovery Ecosystems (INSPIRE) Initiative, which provides funding across Appalachia to address the substance use disorder crisis.

“In addition to expanding access to substance use treatment programs, it's critical that we're helping individuals recovering from substance use disorders access the resources they need to succeed,” said the senators. “We’re glad this funding will help more Virginians across Southwest Virginia get the job skills and support they need to enter or renter the workforce.”

The funding is distributed as follows:

  • $500,000 for the YWCA Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia in Glade Spring to provide access to family resiliency and recovery-to-work supports, including workshops on health and wellness, soft skills and entrepreneurship, personal finance, housing, career coaching, teen and adult parenting, and nutrition and cooking. 
  • $439,669 for Mountain Empire Community College Foundation in Big Stone Gap to grow their Project Amelioration Program, which helps individuals with substance use disorder in Dickenson, Lee, and Wise counties gain hands-on job training, financial education, and life skills training. The program also offers counseling services, social services, and employment assistance. 

Sens. Warner and Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, have long supported those recovering from substance use disorder. The senators announced $1.4 million in federal funding to expand access to mental health care across Virginia.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $1,398,428 in federal funding for the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to expand access to mental health care in Virginia. The funding was awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Community Mental Health Services Block Grant program. This program allocates funding to states to provide comprehensive, community-based mental health services to adults and children with significant mental health conditions. 

“Every Virginian deserves access to high-quality, affordable mental health care,” said the senators. “The last few years have underscored the importance of access to mental health services, and we’re glad this funding will help more Virginians reach the care they need.”

States may distribute funds from this program to local government entities and nongovernmental organizations to provide community mental health services. The funding was made possible by the (BSCA), which the senators helped pass. In Fiscal Year 2023, Virginia has received over $25 million in federal funding through the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant program.

Warner and Kaine have long supported efforts to expand access to mental health care. Warner and Kaine are sponsors of the CONNECT for Health Act, which would expand coverage of telehealth services, including mental health treatment and treatment for substance use disorders. Warner has additionally successfully pressed the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to finalize long-delayed regulations allowing doctors to prescribe controlled substances, including those that treat opioid use disorder, through telehealth. Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, introduced legislation to reduce and prevent suicide, burnout, and mental and behavioral health conditions among health care professionals, which President Biden signed into law last year. Last year, the senators announced $1 million in federal funding through the BSCA to expand and enhance the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline in Virginia. Kaine has also introduced legislation to support children’s access to mental health care, which was included in last year’s government funding bill that the senators helped pass.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine celebrated the one year anniversary of the InflationReduction Act becoming law. Last August, the senators voted to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, legislation to lower health care and prescription drug costs, bring down energy bills, and tackle climate change—all while lowering the deficit.

“From capping the cost of insulin to $35 per month for seniors on Medicare to helping more families make energy efficient home improvements, the Inflation Reduction Act is already lowering costs for hundreds of thousands of Virginians in the year since it became law,” said the senators. “In the years ahead, we look forward to seeing the law’s impacts, including a $2,000 annual cap on out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs for Medicare recipients. We remain committed to making sure communities across Virginia continue to benefit from the law’s many provisions." 

Below is a list of provisions that have already taken effect in the year since the law was enacted.

Health Care

  • Black lung benefits: The law permanently extends the black lung excise tax at a higher rate, providing more certainty for miners, miner retirees, and their families who rely on the fund to access benefits. In Virginia, thousands of miners and their families have received benefits through the trust fund since it was established, including approximately 2,600 Virginians in 2021. Watch here to learn more about what this means for miners and miner retirees like Mr. James Gibbs, a Bristol native, the At-Large International Vice President of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and Kaine's guest to the 2023 State of the Union.
  • $35 cap on the cost of insulin: Out-of-pocket costs for insulin—regardless of how much a patient needs—is capped at $35 per month under Medicare. Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, 36,461 Virginians on Medicare who use insulin now pay no more than $35 per month. Click here to learn how seniors like Mrs. Marguerite Bailey Young of Fredericksburg, who was Warner’s guest to the 2023 State of the Union, are benefiting from the $35 cap. 
  • Free vaccines for Medicare recipients: People with Medicare no longer have to pay to receive vaccines under Medicare Part D, which includes vaccines for shingles, HPV, MMR, diphtheria, and pertussis. 1,095,331 Virginia seniors on Medicare are able to receive the shingles vaccine and other recommended vaccines at no cost.
  • Extension of ACA subsidies: During the pandemic, Congress enhanced subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to help lower health care premiums for millions of Americans. The Inflation Reduction Act extended these enhanced subsidies through 2025 to help make Virginians’ health insurance more affordable. 304,469 Virginians with ACA coverage are receiving assistance to lower the cost of their premium. In 2022, Virginians saved an average of $508 per month on their health insurance premium.
  • Penalties on drug manufacturers that increase prices: Manufacturers are required to keep the increase in the cost of their drugs at or below inflation.

Clean Energy 

  • Boosts to clean energy investments: Clean energy manufacturers can apply for expanded tax credits that incentivize investment in and production of renewable energy technologies like solar power and offshore wind. The Inflation ReductionAct set aside $4 billion in credits for businesses that make these investments in energy communities that have seen closures of coal mines or retirements of coal-fired power plants in recent years. This means that communities in Virginia, especially Southwest Virginia, are well-positioned to benefit from many of these tax credits and funding opportunities.
  • Improvements to home energy efficiency: Homeowners can receive up to 30 percent back through tax credits for making energy efficiency improvements to their home—generally up to a maximum of $1,200 per year but potentially up to $3,200 if improvements include heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, or biomass stoves. 
  • Increased access to electric vehicles: Qualified individuals can get up to a $7,500 consumer credit for the purchase of new electric vehicles. There are additional incentives to help ensure those vehicles are produced in North America. Qualified individuals can receive a tax credit of up to $4,000 for certain used electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids purchased through a dealership. In order to qualify for the full value of the credit, the vehicle must: have a battery capacity of at least 7kW hours; generally be a model at least two years old; and be sold by a participating dealer that is licensed in the jurisdiction. For new vehicles, eligible taxpayers include single filers with incomes under $150,000 annually and households with joint incomes under $300,000 annually if the head of household earns under $225,000 annually. The vehicle’s price is limited to $55,000 for compact vehicles and $80,000 for SUVs, vans, and pick-ups. For used EVs, single filers must have an income under $75,000 annually or $150,000 as a household, as long as the head of household makes under $112,500 annually. The used vehicle’s price is limited to $25,000.

While many provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act have already been implemented, there are additional provisions that will begin later this year or in the years to come.

  • Medicare drug price negotiation: On September 1, 2023, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will release a list of the first 10 drugs covered under Part D eligible for the Medicare drug price negotiation program. The Inflation Reduction Act provided Medicare with the ability to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for the first time in history. The negotiated prices will go into effect in 2026.
  • Free vaccines for Medicaid recipients: On October 1, 2023, Medicaid and CHIP will cover vaccines for Medicaid-covered adults. Currently, vaccine coverage is optional for states. 2,040,696 Virginia Medicaid recipients will have access to expanded vaccine coverage.
  • Cap on out-of-pocket costs on prescription drugs: Beginning in 2025, there will be a $2,000 cap on out-of-pocket costs on prescription drugs for seniors covered under Medicare Part D. Some estimates have shown that Virginia seniors on Medicare will save an average of $440.62 on out-of-pocket costs on prescription drugs thanks to this cap. Watch here to hear what this cap will mean for seniors like Mr. Irv Varkonyi from Fairfax.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, today urged Google CEO Sundar Pichai to provide more clarity into his company’s deployment of Med-PaLM 2, an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot currently being tested in health care settings. In a letter, Sen. Warner expressed concerns about reports of inaccuracies in the technology, and called on Google to increase transparency, protect patient privacy, and ensure ethical guardrails.

In April, Google began testing Med-PaLM2 with customers, including the Mayo Clinic. Med-PaLM 2 can answer medical questions, summarize documents, and organize health data. While the technology has shown some promising results, there are also concerning reports of repeated inaccuracies and of Google’s own senior researchers expressing reservations about the readiness of the technology. Additionally, much remains unknown about where Med-PaLM 2 is being tested, what data sources it learns from, to what extent patients are aware of and can object to the use of AI in their treatment, and what steps Google has taken to protect against bias.

“While artificial intelligence (AI) undoubtedly holds tremendous potential to improve patient care and health outcomes, I worry that premature deployment of unproven technology could lead to the erosion of trust in our medical professionals and institutions, the exacerbation of existing racial disparities in health outcomes, and an increased risk of diagnostic and care-delivery errors,” Sen. Warner wrote. 

The letter raises concerns over AI companies prioritizing the race to establish market share over patient well-being. Sen. Warner also emphasizes his previous efforts to raise the alarm about Google skirting health privacy as it trained diagnostic models on sensitive health data without patients’ knowledge or consent.

“It is clear more work is needed to improve this technology as well as to ensure the health care community develops appropriate standards governing the deployment and use of AI,” Sen. Warner continued.

The letter poses a broad range of questions for Google to answer, requesting more transparency into exactly how Med-PaLM 2 is being rolled out, what data sources Med-PaLM 2 learns from, how much information and agency patients have over how AI is involved in their care, and more.

Sen. Warner, a former tech entrepreneur, has been a vocal advocate for Big Tech accountability and a stronger national posture against cyberattacks and misinformation online. In April, Sen. Warner directly expressed concerns to several AI CEOs – including Sundar Pichai – about the potential risks posed by AI, and called on companies to ensure that their products and systems are secure. Last month, he called on the Biden administration to work with AI companies to develop additional guardrails around the responsible deployment of AI. He has also introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at making tech more secure, including the RESTRICT Act, which would comprehensively address the ongoing threat posed by technology from foreign adversaries; the SAFE TECH Act, which would reform Section 230 and allow social media companies to be held accountable for enabling cyber-stalking, online harassment, and discrimination on social media platforms; and the Honest Ads Act, which would require online political advertisements to adhere to the same disclaimer requirements as TV, radio, and print ads.

A copy of the letter can be found here are below. 

Dear Mr. Pichai,

I write to express my concern regarding reports that Google began providing Med-PaLM 2 to hospitals to test early this year. While artificial intelligence (AI) undoubtedly holds tremendous potential to improve patient care and health outcomes, I worry that premature deployment of unproven technology could lead to the erosion of trust in our medical professionals and institutions, the exacerbation of existing racial disparities in health outcomes, and an increased risk of diagnostic and care-delivery errors.

Over the past year, large technology companies, including Google, have been rushing to develop and deploy AI models and capture market share as the technology has received increased attention following OpenAI’s launch of ChatGPT. Numerous media outlets have reported that companies like Google and Microsoft have been willing to take bigger risks and release more nascent technology in an effort to gain a first mover advantage. In 2019, I raised concerns that Google was skirting health privacy laws through secretive partnerships with leading hospital systems, under which it trained diagnostic models on sensitive health data without patients’ knowledge or consent. This race to establish market share is readily apparent and especially concerning in the health care industry, given the life-and-death consequences of mistakes in the clinical setting, declines of trust in health care institutions in recent years, and the sensitivity of health information. One need look no further than AI pioneer Joseph Weizenbaum’s experiments involving chatbots in psychotherapy to see how users can put premature faith in even basic AI solutions.

According to Google, Med-PaLM 2 can answer medical questions, summarize documents, and organize health data. While AI models have previously been used in medical settings, the use of generative AI tools presents complex new questions and risks. According to the Wall Street Journal, a senior research director at Google who worked on Med-PaLM 2 said, “I don’t feel that this kind of technology is yet at a place where I would want it in my family’s healthcare journey.” Indeed, Google’s own research, released in May, showed that Med-PaLM 2’s answers contained more inaccurate or irrelevant information than answers provided by physicians. It is clear more work is needed to improve this technology as well as to ensure the health care community develops appropriate standards governing the deployment and use of AI

Given these serious concerns and the fact that VHC Health, based in Arlington, Virginia, is a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, I request that you provide answers to the following questions. 

  1. Researchers have found large language models to display a phenomenon described as “sycophany,” wherein the model generates responses that confirm or cater to a user’s (tacit or explicit) preferred answers, which could produce risks of misdiagnosis in the medical context. Have you tested Med-PaLM 2 for this failure mode?
  2. Large language models frequently demonstrate the tendency to memorize contents of their training data, which can risk patient privacy in the context of models trained on sensitive health information. How has Google evaluated Med-PaLM 2 for this risk and what steps has Google taken to mitigate inadvertent privacy leaks of sensitive health information?
  3. What documentation did Google provide hospitals, such as Mayo Clinic, about Med-PaLM 2? Did it share model or system cards, datasheets, data-statements, and/or test and evaluation results?
  4. Google’s own research acknowledges that its clinical models reflect scientific knowledge only as of the time the model is trained, necessitating “continual learning.” What is the frequency with which Google fully or partially re-trains Med-PaLM 2? Does Google ensure that licensees use only the most up-to-date model version?
  5. Google has not publicly provided documentation on Med-PaLM 2, including refraining from disclosing the contents of the model’s training data. Does Med-PaLM 2’s training corpus include protected health information?
  6. Does Google ensure that patients are informed when Med-PaLM 2, or other AI models offered or licensed by, are used in their care by health care licensees? If so, how is the disclosure presented? Is it part of a longer disclosure or more clearly presented?
  7. Do patients have the option to opt-out of having AI used to facilitate their care? If so, how is this option communicated to patients?
  8. Does Google retain prompt information from health care licensees, including protected health information contained therein? Please list each purpose Google has for retaining that information.
  9. What license terms exist in any product license to use Med-PaLM 2 to protect patients, ensure ethical guardrails, and prevent misuse or inappropriate use of Med-PaLM 2? How does Google ensure compliance with those terms in the post-deployment context? 
  10. How many hospitals is Med-PaLM 2 currently being used at? Please provide a list of all hospitals and health care systems Google has licensed or otherwise shared Med-Palm 2 with.
  11. Does Google use protected health information from hospitals using Med-PaLM 2 to retrain or finetune Med-PaLM 2 or any other models? If so, does Google require that hospitals inform patients that their protected health information may be used in this manner?
  12. In Google’s own research publication announcing Med-PaLM 2, researchers cautioned about the need to adopt “guardrails to mitigate against over-reliance on the output of a medical assistant.” What guardrails has Google adopted to mitigate over-reliance on the output of Med-PaLM 2 as well as when it particularly should and should not be used? What guardrails has Google incorporated through product license terms to prevent over-reliance on the output?

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today released the following statement on a notice by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that it will consider creating a special registration process that would allow quality health care providers to prescribe controlled substances over telehealth safely, as they’ve done during the pandemic. Sen. Warner has been a vocal advocate for telehealth and has previously called on the DEA to establish this process.

“Telehealth was a lifesaver for patients during the peak of the pandemic and has since opened the door to uncomplicated and reliable access to a doctor for patients who need it. Given the shortage of mental health providers and the increased need for access to prescribers through telehealth, I’m pleased that the DEA is finally looking into establishing a rule to allow specially trained prescribers to continue administering controlled substances virtually without requiring an in-person visit. This rule will be especially meaningful to patients who rely on medications that treat opioid use disorder, among many others. I encourage prescribers and patients to participate in the DEA’s public comment period and provide their input on this proposed rule.” 

Since 2008, Congress has directed the DEA to set up a special registration process, an exception process under the Ryan Haight Act, a law that regulates the online prescription of controlled substances. This special registration process would open up the door for quality health care providers to evaluate a patient and prescribe these medications over telehealth safely, as was done for years during the pandemic.

Sen. Warner, a former tech entrepreneur, has been a longtime advocate for increased access to telehealth. He is an original cosponsor of the CONNECT for Health Act, which would expand coverage of telehealth services through Medicare, make COVID-19 telehealth flexibilities permanent, improve health outcomes, and make it easier for patients to safely connect with their doctors. He previously wrote to both the Biden and Trump administrations, urging the DEA to finalize regulations long-delayed by prior administrations allowing doctors to prescribe controlled substances through telehealth. Sen. Warner also sent a letter to Senate leadership during the height of the COVID-19 crisis, calling for the permanent expansion of access to telehealth services.

In 2018, Sen. Warner included a provision to expand financial coverage for virtual substance use treatment in the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. In 2003, then-Gov. Warner expanded Medicaid coverage for telemedicine statewide, including evaluation and management visits, a range of individual psychotherapies, the full range of consultations, and some clinical services, including in cardiology and obstetrics. Coverage was also expanded to include non-physician providers. Among other benefits, the telehealth expansion allowed individuals in medically underserved and remote areas of Virginia to access quality specialty care that isn’t always available at home.

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WASHINGTON– Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $10,968,600 in federal funding to expand access to health care in the Valley and Southwest Virginia. The funding was awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Community Facilities Emergency Rural Health Care Grant Program, which helps rural health care facilities, tribes, and communities expand access to health care services and nutrition assistance. The funding was made possible by the American Rescue Plan, which Warner and Kaine voted to pass in 2021.

“All Virginians, no matter where they live, should have access to high-quality, reliable health care,” said the senators. “We’re glad this funding will help expand telehealth services, improve capacity for mental health and substance use treatment programs, and update essential medical equipment so that more Virginians can get the care they need.”

The funding is distributed as follows:

  • $5,118,100 for the Virginia Consortium to Advance Health Care in Appalachia to increase access to telehealth by expanding regional networks that will share resources, training, and educational opportunities for people living in rural areas throughout the Commonwealth. The Consortium includes the University of Virginia’s (UVA) Center for Telehealth, the Healthy Appalachia Institute at UVA’s College at Wise, the Southwest Virginia Health Authority, the Health Wagon, Tri-Area Health, and Ballad Health.
  • $5,000,000 for the Mount Rogers Community Services (MRCS) Smyth County campus to expand access to mental health, developmental disability, and substance use disorder treatment. The funding will be used to create a second eight-bed unit at the Rhea B. Lawrence Recovery Center, which will double the space available for residential services. It will also be used to relocate the crisis care center from an offsite facility to centralize treatments and offer referral-based outpatient services in one location. These steps will help improve the quality of care available to the 32,208 residents located in the Center’s service area, which includes Bland, Carroll, Grayson, Smyth, and Wythe counties and Galax.
  • $850,500 for the Bath County Community Hospital to purchase an X-ray machine and an electronic medical records system subscription, which will give doctors quick access to health records from labs and clinic emergency rooms. The equipment was damaged in an electrical fire, forcing staff to use a portable machine that is inadequate in many cases. The equipment will benefit nearly 30,000 residents in Bath, Highland, and Alleghany counties.

Warner and Kaine have long supported efforts to expand access to health care, especially in rural communities. The senators have introduced the CONNECT for Health Act of 2023, which would expand coverage of telehealth services through Medicare, make permanent telehealth flexibilities that were enacted during COVID, make it easier for patients to connect with their doctors, and help improve health outcomes. In March, the senators introduced the Save Rural Hospitals Act, which would help curb the trend of hospital closures in rural communities by making sure hospitals are fairly reimbursed for their services by the federal government.

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WASHINGTON — The Senate Finance Committee today approved on a 26-1 vote the Modernizing and Ensuring PBM Accountability (MEPA) Act, bipartisan legislation to help address rising prescription drug prices by regulating the middlemen who manage prescription drug benefits on behalf of health insurers.

“For too long, and without any transparency, pharmacy middlemen have moved away from their origins negotiating to bring prices down on behalf of insurers and consumers and have instead moved toward extracting profit, leading to higher drug prices, more federal spending, and bigger out-of-pocket costs for Virginians,” said Sen. Warner, a member of the Committee and a co-author of the legislation. “The Inflation Reduction Act we enacted last year finally gave Medicare the power to negotiate prices for some of the most expensive prescription drugs for seniors on Medicare, but Congress needs to do more to lower the price of medicines, including through reforms to PBMs. I’m proud of our work today in the Finance Committee, and am hopeful that we can bring a bill to the Senate floor and get it to the president’s desk soon.”

Included in the legislation are multiple bipartisan bills proposed by Sen. Warner, including S. 2493, the PBM Reporting Transparency Act, which would hold PBMs accountable for providing good value to seniors and Medicare by making public information about the contracts between PBMs and Medicare prescription drug plans; S. 2408, the IMPROVE Part D Regulations Act, which would require the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to conduct patient-focused listening sessions about potential improvements to Medicare Part D; and an amendment requiring CMS to make sure that PBMs aren’t standing in the way of fair reimbursements for smaller pharmacies, such as long-term care pharmacies and home infusion pharmacies, that serve medically complex patients.

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WASHINGTON — Today,  U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and John Thune (R-SD) introduced the Equitable Community Access to Pharmacist Services Act, bipartisan legislation that would ensure seniors can continue to access certain clinical services from their pharmacist. The bill would allow Medicare to reimburse for certain pharmacist-administered tests, treatments, and vaccinations for influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), COVID-19, and strep throat, in accordance with state scope-of-practice laws.

“Pharmacists play a key role in delivering health care services in our communities,” said Sen. Warner. “This legislation will make care for common illnesses – including flu, COVID, RSV, and strep throat – easier for seniors to access by allowing pharmacists to seek reimbursement from Medicare for services that they are already licensed to perform under state laws, such as testing and vaccination.”

“Seniors across South Dakota rely on the care and support they receive from their community pharmacist,” said Sen. Thune. “I am proud to lead this common-sense legislation that would allow these trusted sources for vaccinations and other important treatments to remain a reliable option for seniors.”

“We extend our heartfelt appreciation to Senator Thune for introducing the Equitable Community Access to Pharmacists Services Act,” said Amanda Bacon, executive director of the South Dakota Pharmacists Association. “This groundbreaking legislation will make an incredible difference in increasing access to essential healthcare services provided by pharmacists across South Dakota. By recognizing the critical role pharmacists play in patient care and fostering collaboration with other healthcare providers, Senator Thune is paving the way for a healthier and more vibrant future for our communities.”

“Pharmacists are a vital part of the rural health care delivery system as many older adults in rural areas depend on their pharmacist to help manage multiple prescriptions and conditions,” said Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association (NRHA). “The Equitable Community Access to Pharmacist Services Act would remove barriers for older adults in rural areas to access essential pharmacist services related to respiratory illnesses, which tend to be more fatal for older populations. NRHA is proud to support this legislation to ensure rural communities maintain access to pharmacist services and care to help older adults manage their health.”

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), John Fetterman (D-PA), Mark Warner (D-VA) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) released the following statement on the Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposal by its Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to amend current federal standards to better protect the nation’s miners from health hazards related to exposure to respirable crystalline silica, or silica dust. 

“We applaud the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s new proposed silica rule to enhance health protections for miners across the country. We urge swift implementation of this rule because protecting our hard-working miners from dangerous levels of silica cannot wait. After decades of declining rates of black lung deaths, we have seen the number of reported cases rapidly increase over the last 20 years - especially in Appalachia. America’s coal miners have risked their lives to power our great nation for generations, and we are committed to using every tool possible to protect miners from developing debilitating diseases that are entirely preventable.”

Earlier this month, the Senators sent a letter to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shalanda Young, seeking additional information on the delayed announcement of a new silica standard for miners across America and urging prompt promulgation.

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), co-chair of the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease, announced that a pair of bills that would build on the important progress that has been made to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s disease advanced the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee by a 20-1 vote.

More than six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s costs our nation an astonishing $345 billion per year, including $222 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid. If we continue along this trajectory, Alzheimer’s is projected to claim the minds of 13.8 million seniors by 2060 and nearly surpass $1 trillion in annual costs by 2050. In 2022, family caregivers provided 18 billion hours of unpaid care for loved ones with dementia.

“I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s after a courageous decade-long fight, so I understand the toll this terrible disease takes on seniors and families,” said Sen. Warner. “Today’s resounding bipartisan vote is a great step towards reauthorizing some of the most powerful tools we have to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. I look forward to getting it across the finish line.”

The NAPA Reauthorization Act—authored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and co-led by Sens. Warner, Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)—would reauthorize the National Alzheimer’s Project through 2035 and modernize the legislation to reflect strides that have been made to understand the disease, such as including a new focus on promoting healthy aging and reducing risk factors. The National Alzheimer’s Project brings the whole of government together to make recommendations to improve policies and care for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers and families.

The Alzheimer’s Accountability and Investment Act—also authored by Sens. Collins, Warner, Capito, Markey, Moran, Menendez, Murkowski, and Stabenow—would continue through 2035 a requirement that the Director of the National Institutes of Health submit an annual budget to Congress estimating the funding necessary to fully implement NAPA’s research goals. Only two other areas of biomedical research – cancer and HIV/AIDS – have been the subject of special budget development aimed at speeding discovery.

The NAPA Reauthorization Act and Alzheimer’s Accountability and Investment Act are endorsed by the Alzheimer’s Association and UsAgainstAlzheimer’s. The NAPA Reauthorization Act, as reported out of Committee, also includes updated language in recognition of the need to include underserved populations, including individuals with Down syndrome, who are at increased risk for Alzheimer’s as they age. The reported bill is endorsed by the National Down Syndrome Society, the National Down Syndrome Congress, and LuMind IDSC Foundation.

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