Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) urging it to review and approve the leasing prospectus submitted more than two months ago by the General Services Administration (GSA) for a new Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facility in Hampton Roads. While GSA had initially anticipated receiving OMB sign-off on the project by the end of last month, nearly three weeks later, the project is still awaiting review at OMB, further delaying plans to complete the much-needed new facility in South Hampton Roads by the fall of 2023.

“This clinic is essential to reducing VA wait times in a region with one of the fastest-growing veterans populations in the country. From 2012 to 2016, patient visits at the Hampton VA Medical Center increased by 21.4 percent, a rate nearly triple the national average of 7.3 percent. As of March 2019, patients were waiting an average of 57 days to access primary care at the Hampton VA Medical Center,” wrote Sen. Warner in today’s letter to OMB Director Mick Mulvaney. “Meanwhile, at the region’s other VA facility, an outpatient clinic in Chesapeake, veterans experienced wait times of 59 days for primary care. Any further delays constructing and opening this new health facility will only exacerbate the VA’s existing capacity challenges in Hampton Roads, where the veterans population is anticipated to increase approximately 22 percent between 2017 and 2027.”

In 2017, Congress approved leases for 28 VA facilities around the country, including two in Virginia. In an effort to ensure timely completion of the facilities, the VA passed off procurement authority for six of the projects, including the Hampton Roads clinic, to the GSA, which has been conducting the lease procurement process for the Hampton Roads facility since March 2018 and is currently in the ‘prospectus authority’ phase of the project. On May 8, 2019, GSA submitted a lease prospectus document to OMB, which must approve the plan in order to proceed with the design and construction of the Hampton Roads VA medical facility.

“As you know, OMB approval is required for lease projects over $3.095 million. GSA cannot proceed on this lease procurement until both OMB and Congress authorize the prospectus document. However, congressional authorization cannot be sought until OMB approves the prospectus. Therefore, in order for this project to move forward, your approval is urgently needed,” continued Sen. Warner. “According to GSA estimates, this project can be completed and turned over to the VA in the fall of 2023 – approximately six years after the leases were tardily approved by Congress. However, this timeline was produced by GSA on the assumption that OMB would approve the project by the end of June. Now that we are more than halfway into the month of July, each additional day that goes by without OMB approval is one more day that Hampton Roads veterans could have to wait to see this long-promised facility up and running.”

In the letter, Sen. Warner asked OMB to approve the project within the next week, and reiterated his commitment to help expedite the process.

“The prospectus document is no more than a few pages – it should not take OMB over two months to review the proposal,” Sen. Warner noted. “Once OMB is finished, I will do my part to ensure that the Senate conducts our approval process in an expedited manner, and together I hope that we can put this lease project back on track so that veterans in need of the facility will be able to use it as soon as possible.”

Since Congress approved the Hampton Roads clinic in 2017, Sen. Warner has repeatedly pushed the VA and GSA to expedite their work to get it up and running swiftly. In a personal meeting at his Washington office in December of 2018, Sen. Warner pressed GSA leadership to provide an update on the agency’s progress in opening the new facility. Dissatisfied with the lack of headway, the following month Sen. Warner again demanded a plan from GSA to speed up the procurement and construction process for the clinic. Sen. Warner followed up with the VA and GSA last week to express his continued outrage at “the glacial pace” of the Hampton Roads project, as well as another VA medical facility awaiting construction in Fredericksburg, Va., and to demand real plans from both for completing the already-delayed projects on a faster timeline.

A copy of today’s letter can be found here and below.

 

Dear Director Mulvaney:

I write to urge the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to expeditiously approve the prospectus on a Veterans Affairs (VA) Outpatient Clinic in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, which was submitted on May 8, 2019 by the General Services Administration (GSA). Further delays will only prolong a process that is already significantly and unnecessarily behind schedule. 

In 2017 Congress authorized leases for 28 VA facilities around the country, two of which are in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The VA passed procurement authority to the GSA for six of the projects, including the Hampton Roads outpatient clinic, in an effort to ensure timely completion of the facilities. GSA has been conducting the lease procurement process for the Hampton Roads facility since March 2018, and is currently in the “prospectus authority” phase of the project.

This clinic is essential to reducing VA wait times in a region with one of the fastest-growing veterans populations in the country. From 2012 to 2016, patient visits at the Hampton VA Medical Center increased by 21.4 percent, a rate nearly triple the national average of 7.3 percent. As of March 2019, patients were waiting an average of 57 days to access primary care at the Hampton VA Medical Center. Meanwhile, at the region’s other VA facility, an outpatient clinic in Chesapeake, veterans experienced wait times of 59 days for primary care. Any further delays constructing and opening this new health facility will only exacerbate the VA’s existing capacity challenges in Hampton Roads, where the veterans population is anticipated to increase approximately 22 percent between 2017 and 2027.

As you know, OMB approval is required for lease projects over $3.095 million. GSA cannot proceed on this lease procurement until both OMB and Congress authorize the prospectus document. However, congressional authorization cannot be sought until OMB approves the prospectus. Therefore, in order for this project to move forward, your approval is urgently needed. According to GSA estimates, this project can be completed and turned over to the VA in the fall of 2023 – approximately six years after the leases were tardily approved by Congress. However, this timeline was produced by GSA on the assumption that OMB would approve the project by the end of June. Now that we are more than halfway into the month of July, each additional day that goes by without OMB approval is one more day that Hampton Roads veterans could have to wait to see this long-promised facility up and running.

I ask that OMB do everything possible to expedite the review and approval of this prospectus document within the next week. The prospectus document is no more than a few pages – it should not take OMB over two months to review the proposal. Once OMB is finished, I will do my part to ensure that the Senate conducts our approval process in an expedited manner, and together I hope that we can put this lease project back on track so that veterans in need of the facility will be able to use it as soon as possible.

I look forward to your response, or even better, to the notice that OMB has approved the lease prospectus.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), demanding that both agencies present a plan to expedite the completion of outpatient VA medical facilities in Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg. The letter comes on the heels of a report by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of the Inspector General (IG) that revealed severely delayed completion times for a group of VA medical clinic projects from 2014.

“I write to convey my serious concerns and frustrations with the glacial pace of two Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) lease procurement projects in the Commonwealth of Virginia: an outpatient clinic in Hampton Roads run by the General Services Administration (GSA) and an outpatient clinic in Fredericksburg run by the VA. I request that both the VA and the GSA work to expedite the timelines for both clinics to meet the urgent needs of our veterans, as well as present a plan to my office, outlining phases in the timeline that can be reduced,” wrote Sen. Warner.

Plans to build the two new VA clinics in the Commonwealth are a direct result of Sen. Warner’s successful bipartisan effort to secure congressional approval for 28 overdue VA medical facility leases in 2017. While the new outpatient in Fredericksburg is under the purview of the VA, the GSA has undertaken the procurement and construction of the new Hampton Roads clinic in an effort to accelerate the process. In his letter to the VA and GSA, Sen. Warner conveyed grave concern that both agencies’ processes for site selection and construction are far behind schedule. Currently, both agencies have indicated that the completion of the clinics may take until 2023, more than 6 years after the leases were approved.   

The veteran population in Hampton Roads, one of the fastest-growing in the country, is anticipated to increase approximately 22 percent from 2017 to 2027. As Sen. Warner emphasized in his letter, the completion of the new clinic in the region is essential to reducing wait times and expanding healthcare options for veterans.

“I am particularly outraged that of the 28 leases approved as part of the 2017 legislation, the two Virginia facilities are among the last to be scheduled for completion. The Hampton Roads area is home to one of the largest veteran populations in the country and is in particular need of additional centers. In March 2019, the Hampton Roads VA Medical Center was seeing long wait times for primary care, specifically 57 days for the Hampton VAMC and 59 days for the Chesapeake VA Outpatient Clinic. Despite additional reforms on site to help care for veterans, it is clear that from these numbers that the region desperately needs more capacity to provide care for our veterans,” continued Sen. Warner.

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

 

The Honorable Robert Wilkie

Secretary of Veterans Affairs

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue NW

Washington, D.C. 20420 

Emily W. Murphy

Administrator

U.S. General Services Administration

1800 F Street NW

Washington, D.C. 20405

Dear Secretary Wilkie and Administrator Murphy:

I write to convey my serious concerns and frustrations with the glacial pace of two Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) lease procurement projects in the Commonwealth of Virginia: an outpatient clinic in Hampton Roads run by the General Services Administration (GSA) and an outpatient clinic in Fredericksburg run by the VA. I request that both the VA and the GSA work to expedite the timelines for both clinics to meet the urgent needs of our veterans, as well as present a plan to my office, outlining phases in the timeline that can be reduced.  

As you know, in 2017, after extended delays, Congress finally authorized leases for 28 VA facilities around the country, two of which are in Virginia. The VA passed procurement authority to the GSA for six of the projects – one of which was the Hampton Roads outpatient clinic, largely due to the need to ensure timely completion of the facilities. 

Despite both the VA and the GSA having had ownership of these projects for roughly two years and a year and a half, respectively, neither project has posted a Solicitation for Offer. In the case of the Hampton Roads facility, GSA began working on the project in March 2018, and GSA’s current timeline anticipates awarding the lease in February 2021, nearly three years later. This is prior to construction starting. The latest timelines put both the Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg facilities’ completion dates in the fall of 2023 – more than six years after the approval of these leases. This is unacceptable and reflects poorly on the GSA, the VA and on the U.S. government overall.

I am particularly outraged that of the 28 leases approved as part of the 2017 legislation, the two Virginia facilities are among the last to be scheduled for completion. The Hampton Roads area is home to one of the largest veteran populations in the country and is in particular need of additional centers. In March 2019, the Hampton Roads VA Medical Center was seeing long wait times for primary care, specifically 57 days for the Hampton VAMC and 59 days for the Chesapeake VA Outpatient Clinic. Despite additional reforms on site to help care for veterans, it is clear that from these numbers that the region desperately needs more capacity to provide care for our veterans. 

I look forward to a response from each of you that indicates how the lease projects for the outpatient clinic in the Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg will be expedited, so that the veterans who need these facilities will be able to use them sooner than they are currently estimated to be delivered. In my last correspondence with Administrator Murphy, she indicated that GSA would in fact evaluate opportunities to expedite the delivery of this facility. I thus would ask that both GSA and the VA specifically identify these areas as well. 

I cannot stress enough how important it is to the veterans I represent in Virginia that every effort be made to expedite the procurement and building processes for these facilities. This matter is of the utmost importance to me, and I stand ready to help in any way I can.

Sincerely,           

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) along with Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) met in Sen. Kaine’s office in Washington, D.C. with a delegation representing Lee County Hospital. The meeting included representatives from the Lee County Hospital Authority, the Virginia Department of Health, and Ballad Health, who spoke with the members of Congress about next steps in the process of reopening the Lee County Hospital.

“Folks in Lee County and in rural communities across Virginia deserve to have access to the health care services they need,” said the members of Congress. “Rural hospitals face unique challenges, but in our meeting, the delegation from Lee County laid out a plan for how we can get this done. We are cautiously optimistic that this six-year effort is reaching the finish line and we plan to do everything in our power at the federal level to get the Lee County Hospital reopened next year.”

In 2013, the Lee County hospital – then known as the Lee County Regional Medical Center – closed abruptly, leaving the county without access to a nearby hospital. This closure hurt economic development in the area and affected public safety, as patients were forced to wait longer for medical care, and community sheriffs and fire squads spent valuable time escorting individuals across county and state lines to other hospitals.

In February of 2019, Lee County Hospital Authority chose Ballad Health as a partner and announced its intent to reopen the hospital, which will focus on treating chronic problems as well as providing much-needed emergency medical care and other typical hospital services. It will also provide a line of ancillary services to meet various community needs.

Last July, Sens. Warner and Kaine, along with Rep. Griffith, met with the Lee County Hospital Authority and key stakeholders to facilitate the reopening of the hospital. Additionally, earlier this year, Sens. Warner and Kaine introduced legislation that would benefit hospitals in medically underserved areas like Lee County, where patients are more likely to be uninsured and hospitals have struggled to stay afloat financially. The States Achieve Medicaid Expansion (SAME) Act of 2019 would allow states that expanded Medicaid after 2014 to receive the same level of federal matching funds as states that expanded earlier, and according to the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, it would save Virginia’s hospitals an estimated $300 million per year in the first three years of implementation.

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WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced legislation to improve coordination of veteran mental health and suicide prevention services and to better measure the effectiveness of these programs in order to reduce the alarming number of veteran suicides.

 The IMPROVE (Incorporating Measurements and Providing Resources for Outreach to Veterans Everywhere) Wellbeing for Veterans Act creates a new grant program to enable the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct additional outreach through veteran-serving non-profits in addition to state and local organizations.

“Congress has provided significant resources to the VA to decrease veteran suicides, yet the number of veterans who take their own lives everyday remains unchanged,” Boozman said. “We all share the goal of saving the lives of veterans. We must have better coordination of existing programs; a common tool to measure the effectiveness of our programs; and better information sharing, data collection and continual feedback in order to identify what services are having the most impact. Creating a framework for these necessary pieces is essential to empowering organizations to work together in the fight against veteran suicide.”  

“Of the 20 veterans who commit suicide every day in this country, roughly 14 of them don’t receive treatment from the VA,” said Warner. “This legislation will target that group by providing grant funding to private organizations with a proven track record of strong mental health and suicide prevention efforts among veterans. It’s my hope that broad coordination between the VA, state veterans affairs departments, first responders, and local leaders, will allow us to support more at-risk veterans and make a meaningful impact on reducing veteran suicide rates in this country.”

In Fiscal Year 2010, the VA requested $62 million for suicide prevention outreach. In Fiscal Year 2020, that number nearly quadrupled to $222 million. Despite the sharp increase in funding, the rate of veterans suicides has remained roughly unchanged at 20 per day. Only six of those 20 veterans are receiving healthcare services at the VA. This points to a significant need to empower the VA to work through community partners to expand outreach. At the same time, national data indicates there are more than 50,000 organizations that provide suicide prevention services for veterans, yet they are hard for veterans to find, access, apply for and use. 

To date, policymakers have assessed capacity and access to services as a measurement for effectiveness. Despite significant capacity increases, the rate of veterans suicides remains the same. There are no shared tools to measure the effectiveness of programming at improving mental resiliency and outlook, which would be indicators of reduced suicide risk.

To address these programmatic gaps, the IMPROVE Wellbeing for Veterans Act will accomplish three broad objectives:

  • Enable the VA to directly or indirectly reach more veterans than it currently does.
  • Increase coordination among currently disparate community resources that serve a wide variety of veteran needs – all of which play a part in reducing the purposelessness that ends in suicide.
  • Create and inspire broad adoption of a measurement tool that will indicate effectiveness of services provided for veterans suicide prevention.

Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) are original cosponsors of the legislation.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded $15,386,097 in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for five Virginia health clinics. This funding will allow the clinics to provide quality, affordable health care and dental services to individuals in Southwest Virginia and on the Eastern Shore.

“We’re pleased to announce federal funding to ensure these clinics can continue to offer valuable care to their communities,” the Senators said. “The clinics are dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for Virginians by ensuring their patients can access the medical, dental, and preventative health services they need.”

The following clinics will receive funding:

  • Clinch River Health Services Inc. of Dungannon, VA will receive $1,297,415
  • St. Charles Health Council Inc. of Jonesville, VA will receive $4,553,688
  • Tri-Area Community Health of Laurel Fork, VA will receive $2,301,604
  • Kuumba Community Health & Wellness Center of Roanoke, VA will receive $2,410,299 
  • Eastern Shore Rural Health System of Onancock, VA will receive $4,823,091

This funding was awarded through HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Health Center Cluster Program. More than 27 million people in the U.S. rely on HRSA-funded health centers for affordable primary health care.

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senators Tina Smith (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to introduce a pair of bills aimed at protecting federal health care benefits in the event of a government shutdown. Similar bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House yesterday, led by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD). 

The two bills would amend current law to ensure that workers who have qualifying life events – like the birth or adoption of a child – are able to make the proper adjustments to their health insurance plans and continue dental and vision benefits during lapses in federal funding.

“I’ve heard story after story about how the recent government shutdown caused significant financial hardship for Virginians. But stories like Brian Uholick’s really struck a nerve. During the 35-day shutdown, Brian struggled to get his newborn on his health insurance to ensure he could get the medication she needed because his own HR department was furloughed,” said Warner. “It’s just not right. That’s why I joined my colleagues in introducing a set of bills to ensure the health and well-being of our federal workforce and their families.” 

“Our hardworking federal employees should never have to go through the pain of a shutdown in the first place, and they should never have to fear losing access to their health benefits as a result. Our legislation would help ensure that federal workers and their families can get the care they need during a shutdown,” said Kaine.     

Press reports during the recent shutdown indicated that federal employees had difficulty obtaining health insurance coverage for their newborns because some agencies were not processing new enrollments or changes to enrollments. 

In January, Sens. Warner and Kaine pressed the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Acting Director to prevent the termination of dental and vision coverage for federal workers during the 35-day shutdown after reports emerged that employees could stand to lose their coverage if they did not pay their premiums. During the government shutdown, OPM announced that coverage would continue only for two or three pay periods, after which insurers would start billing employees directly.   

Both bills are supported by the American Federation of Government Employees, National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, and International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) were joined by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and six other Senators in introducing legislation that would allow states that expanded Medicaid after 2014 or expand in the years ahead to receive the same full federal matching funds as states that expanded earlier under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. The States Achieve Medicaid Expansion (SAME) Act of 2019 is also co-sponsored by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chris Coons (D-DE), Angus King (I-ME), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). 

“It’s crazy that for so many years, Virginia taxpayers were footing the bill for states that had already expanded Medicaid. Today, Medicaid expansion is bringing billions of tax dollars back home to Virginia, and more than 400,000 Virginians have gained access to quality, low-cost or no-cost Medicaid coverage,” said Sen. Warner, a former Governor of Virginia. “This bill will bring even more federal dollars back to Virginia by making sure that we get the same deal from the federal government as states that expanded back in 2014. It also encourages the states that have yet to take the same step to expand Medicaid as Congress intended.” 

The bill would ensure that the twelve states that chose to expand Medicaid after January 1, 2014 are eligible for the same level of federal matching funds as those that expanded earlier under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. These states are Alaska, Idaho,Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Utah and Virginia, where Medicaid expansion went into effect on January 1, 2019, finally allowing more than 400,000 Virginians to access low-cost or no-cost healthcare coverage under Medicaid. The bill would also provide a financial incentive to the 14 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid to do so. 

The Affordable Care Act provides financial support to states that have expanded their existing Medicaid programs to provide healthcare coverage to all individuals up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The federal government covers the full cost of expansion for three years, phasing down to a 90 percent match rate for the sixth year of the expansion and in subsequent years. Currently, states choosing to expand coverage after 2014 do not receive the same federal matching rates as those that expanded immediately. This is due to the Supreme Court’s holding in National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) v. Sebelius, which made expansion optional for states, despite intentions to make Medicaid expansion national in 2014.

The SAME Act would ensure that any states that expand Medicaid receive an equal level of federal funding for the expansion, regardless of when they chose to expand. Under the bill, a state would receive three years of full federal funding, phasing down to a 95 percent Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) in Year 4; a 94 percent federal contribution in Year 5; 93 percent in Year 6; and, 90 percent for each year thereafter.  

The SAME Act would save Virginia’s hospitals an estimated $300 million per year in the first three years of implementation, according to the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association. That increased federal funding under the SAME Act will be especially meaningful in medically underserved areas, where patients are more likely to be uninsured and hospitals have struggled to stay afloat financially and keep their doors open. In Virginia, two rural hospitals – in Patrick County and Lee County – have closed since 2013. 

“Virginia hospitals support Medicaid expansion as a means to improve access to care for thousands of uninsured Virginians. To achieve that, the Commonwealth’s hospitals voluntarily committed the financial resources necessary to cover Virginia’s 10 percent share of program costs not funded by the federal government,” said Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association President and CEO Sean T. Connaughton. “Senator Warner’s legislation to ensure that states which expand Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act receive equivalent funding, regardless of their expansion date, is a welcome proposal that promotes funding equity among the states.” 

“This legislation will finally return money that Virginia taxpayers have been sending to the federal government for health coverage since 2010. It will also provide the financial wherewithal for the 14 states that have an expanded Medicaid eligibility to do so,” said Deborah Oswalt, Executive Director of the Virginia Health Care Foundation.

Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have already expanded eligibility for Medicaid, and three more states – Idaho, Utah and Nebraska – have passed ballot initiatives to expand Medicaid soon. Fourteen states have not yet expanded their programs. In states that have failed to expand Medicaid as envisioned under the health care law, more than 2 million low-income adults fall into a “coverage gap,” due to incomes that are too high to be eligible for Medicaid, but are too low to meet the limit that would allow them to receive tax credits to purchase affordable coverage in the health care marketplace. Without Medicaid expansion, most of these individuals are likely to remain uninsured, as they have limited access to employer coverage and frequently find the cost of unsubsidized marketplace coverage to be prohibitively expensive.

Numerous studies have shown that expanding Medicaid benefits states directly and indirectly, in the form of jobs and earnings growth, generating additional federal revenue, increasing Gross State Product, increasing state and local revenues and reducing uncompensated care and hospital costs. 

“Many thanks to Senator Warner for reintroducing the SAME Act!  By ‘leveling the playing field’ for all states adopting Medicaid expansion, the legislation would provide a huge financial benefit to many states, including Virginia as the Commonwealth continues to implement new health coverage for up to 400,000 low income adults. It also provides a compelling incentive for the remaining states to adopt expansion without further delay.  It’s time to fully close the Medicaid Gap nationwide, which still leaves millions of Americans  uninsured and without any coverage options,” said the Virginia Poverty Law Center in a statement.

The SAME Act has endorsements from the Alliance for Retired Americans, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, Association of Medical Colleges, Center for Medicare Advocacy Inc., Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Children's Defense Fund, Justice in Aging, Mental Health America, National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), National Association of Community Health Centers, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, National Health Law Program, Protect Our Care, and Young Invincibles. A copy of the bill text is available here

“By refusing to expand Medicaid, Alabama has turned away $14 billion of our own taxpayer dollars. For years, those dollars could have been helping to keep our hospitals open, supporting good jobs in our communities, and providing health coverage for hundreds of thousands of Alabamians. This isn’t a partisan issue – expanding Medicaid is the right thing to do. Alabama can no longer afford not to expand, and our SAME Act legislation would ensure that states will get a fair deal when they do. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and on both sides of Capitol Hill, to support this common sense bill,” said Sen. Jones. 

“I served as Governor of Delaware for eight years, and I know a good deal when I see one,” said Sen. Carper. “Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid expansion ensured that over 11 million Americans – including 25,000 Delawareans – gained access to health care, many for the first time in their lives. The expansion of this vital program also helped to ensure that higher health care costs and expensive emergency room visits are not shouldered by American taxpayers. This is an obvious win-win, and tens of thousands of Delawareans have seen the clear benefits of Medicaid expansion in the First State. This bill will help to ensure more states – and more low-income Americans living in those states – can similarly benefit from Medicaid expansion while also keeping costs down for taxpayers. We must uphold our moral obligation to protect the most vulnerable members of our communities, while also avoiding placing increased financial burdens on state budgets.”

“Last year, Medicaid expansion in Virginia made 400,000 more people eligible for coverage,” Sen. Kaine said. “By guaranteeing states the same federal Medicaid funding incentives regardless of when they expand, this bill will help Virginia with its expansion program and encourage states that have not yet expanded Medicaid to make the same smart move.”

“Medicaid expansion has been a proven success in Michigan. It has helped provide access to quality, affordable health care for hundreds of thousands of Michiganders – including many for the first time in their lives,” Sen. Peters said. “This legislation is important because it will allow families in Michigan and across the country to access affordable health care, strengthening our communities as well as our economy.”

“Because of Healthy Michigan, more than 690,000 people in our state have access to quality health care, including cancer screenings, mental health services, and maternity care,” said Sen. Stabenow. “Our bill ensures that Michigan can receive additional federal resources to help families.”

“The people of Maine have made their wishes perfectly clear: they want Medicaid expansion,” said Sen. King. “Our state’s legislators voted six times to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and each of these proposals was vetoed – so the voters of Maine took the issue into their own hands and decisively passed a referendum to expand Medicaid access to tens of thousands of Maine people. Our state government is in the process of fulfilling this responsibility, but due to delayed implementation, Maine stands to lose a significant portion of the federal funds that should go towards our most vulnerable citizens. The people of Maine don’t deserve to be punished for this delay – so while this expansion proceeds at the state level, I will continue fighting at the federal level to make sure our state receives the same benefits as those who expanded Medicaid earlier.”

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Finance Committee and co-chair of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, wrote today to the leaders of four federal agencies and departments, seeking details on any measures being taken by the federal government to reduce vulnerabilities in the health care sector. In the letters, Sen. Warner pointed to apparent gaps in oversight, expressed concern about the impact of cyber-attacks on the health care industry, asked for strategic recommendations, and conveyed his desire to work alongside federal agencies and health care entities to develop strategies that strengthen information security. Sen. Warner also sent letters last week to major health care entities, including the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, and others.

“The increased use of technology in health care certainly has the potential to improve the quality of patient care, expand access to care (including by extending the range of services through telehealth), and reduce wasteful spending. However, the increased use of technology has also left the health care industry more vulnerable to attack,” said Sen. Warner. “As we welcome the benefits of health care technology we must also ensure we are effectively protecting patient information and the essential operations of our health care entities.” 

According to the Government Accountability Office, more than 113 million care records were stolen in 2015. A separate study conducted that same year estimated that the cost of cyberattacks would cost our health care system $305 million over a five-year period. Furthermore, a 2017 report by Trend Micro found that over 100,000 healthcare devices and systems were exposed directly to the public internet, including electronic health record systems, medical devices, and network equipment. 

Sen. Warner concluded the letters by noting that he would like to work with the agencies “to develop a short- and long-term strategy reducing cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the health care sector…It is my hope that with thoughtful and carefully considered feedback we can develop a national strategy that improves the safety, resilience, and security of our health care industry.”

The sensitive nature of medical information makes the health care industry a lucrative target for criminals seeking to profit from personally identifiable information. Medical records often contain private information, including a patient’s social security number, address, and health history. When stolen, this information can be used to conduct identity theft. The importance of continued availability of health data also makes health care organizations lucrative targets for ransomware attacks. 

In order to gauge existing risks and gather facts to develop a long- and short-term security strategy, Sen. Warner asked the following questions of each agency and department:

  1. To date, what proactive steps has your Department/Agency taken to identify and reduce cyber security vulnerabilities in the health care sector?
  2. How has your Department/Agency worked to establish an effective national strategy to reduce cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the health care sector?
  3. Has your Department/Agency engaged private sector health care stakeholders to solicit input on successful strategies to reduce cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the health care sector? If so, what has been the result of these efforts? 
  4. Has your Department/Agency worked collaboratively with other federal agencies and stakeholders to establish a federal strategy to reduce cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the health care sector? If so, who has led these efforts and what has been the result?
  5. Are there specific federal laws and/or regulations that you would recommend Congress consider changing in order to improve your efforts to combat cyberattacks on health care entities?
  6. Are there additional recommendations you would make in establishing a national strategy to improve cybersecurity in the health care sector? 

Letters were sent to the Food and Drug AdministrationDepartment of Health and Human ServicesCenters for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and National Institute of Standards and Technology.

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $524,670 in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for Centra Health, a regional nonprofit healthcare system based in Lynchburg. This funding will allow Centra Health to expand medication assisted treatment (MAT)  for patients struggling with addiction. 

“Substance abuse has had a devastating effect on our communities,” the Senators said.  “We hope this funding can help Centra Health offer life-saving treatment to patients struggling with addiction throughout central and southern Virginia.”

This funding was awarded through HHS’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT). CSAT’s mission is to promote community-based substance abuse treatment and recovery services for individuals and families in every community. CSAT provides national leadership to improve access, reduce barriers, and promote high-quality, effective treatment and recovery services.

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced the Protecting Americans with Pre-existing Conditions Act, legislation that would prevent the Trump Administration from promoting “junk” health care plans that lack protections for people with pre-existing conditions and would increase costs for millions of Americans.  

“Junk plans will increase health care costs for millions of consumers while weakening protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions,” said Sen. Warner. “The Trump Administration should stop trying to undermine the success of the Affordable Care Act, and instead work with Congress on targeted, bipartisan fixes that will lower health care costs and expand access to comprehensive, affordable health care coverage.” 

Under new rules promulgated by the Trump Administration, states would be permitted to use federal subsidies to pay for these subpar health plans by utilizing a section of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) intended to give states additional flexibility to implement targeted improvements that expand coverage, reduce costs and provide more comprehensive benefits. Under the Trump Administration’s proposed policy, states will be permitted to increase out-of-pocket maximums and reduce the value of coverage, weaken essential health benefits, and implement changes increasing health care costs for the majority of beneficiaries as long as they can demonstrate that some people will see lower costs. As a result of this guidance, some Americans will have health coverage that doesn’t meet the ACA’s minimum standards, and millions of other Americans with pre-existing conditions could see their health care costs rise. 

As 42 Senators made clear in a December letter to Administration leaders, the Administration’s plan runs contrary to the intent of Congress in drafting and passing Section 1332 of the ACA. The Protecting Americans with Pre-existing Conditions Act would prohibit the Trump Administration from implementing the guidance released on October 22, 2018 weakening protections for pre-existing conditions.

“The Trump Administration’s efforts to expand the use of junk insurance plans is bankrupt of all sense and morality. Congress must act to protect Americans from being left with higher out-of-pocket costs for less services, which can put their health in jeopardy,”said Sen. Cardin. “Improving our health care system requires serious leadership and ideas, but so far, all the Trump Administration has done is continually attempt to undermine protections for people with preexisting conditions.”

“The Trump Administration’s continued efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act are increasing health care costs for millions of Americans,” said Sen. Shaheen. “By incentivizing consumers to choose junk health insurance plans, the administration is taking us back to a time when Americans could be denied health coverage for pre-existing conditions like cancer and diabetes and be forced to pay sky-high medical bills out of pocket. The American people don’t want to go back to those dark days. Our legislation will block the administration from promoting or providing tax incentives for these junk plans. This commonsense bill will ensure that we maintain the protections that patients count on. It’s time for the Trump Administration to stop sabotaging health care and instead work with Democrats to try and lower prescription drug prices and expand access.” 

“The Trump Administration has rewritten the rules on guaranteed health care protections that millions of Americans depend on. They have expanded of junk insurance plans that can deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and don’t have to cover essential services like prescription drugs, emergency room visits and maternity care,” Sen. Baldwin said. “Anyone who says they support health care coverage for people with pre-existing conditions should support this legislation. This is an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to protect people’s access to quality, affordable health care when they need it most.”

In October, Senators forced a vote in the Senate on a discharge petition that would have blocked the Trump Administration’s rule to expand “junk insurance” plans. The measure was supported by 50 Senators, including one Republican. Ultimately, the petition did not receive the simple majority needed to pass the Senate and send it to the U.S. House of Representatives. 

The Protecting Americans with Pre-existing Conditions Act has been endorsed by Families USA, the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the Epilepsy Foundation, and the American Heart Association. A copy of the bill is available here, and companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Annie Kuster (D-NH), Don Beyer (D-VA), and Joe Courtney (D-CT).

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Susan Collins (R-ME), Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, reintroduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to reduce duplicative filing costs for small businesses seeking to make retirement plans available to their employees. The bill was sponsored in the House by Reps. Linda Sánchez (D-CA), member of the House Committee on Ways and Means, and Phil Roe (R-TN), member of the House Committee on Education and Labor.

“Employer-provided retirement plans give workers stability and strengthen our economy in the long run, but the process of offering these plans can be expensive and complex for smaller employers,” said Sen. Warner. “This bill would remove an unnecessary impediment and reduce filing costs, thereby making it easier for employers to promote the retirement security that workers deserve.” 

“Faced with an alarming $7.8 trillion shortfall in personal retirement savings, Americans simply aren’t saving enough to be able to afford a comfortable retirement,” said Sen. Collins. “When employers provide their employees with access to retirement plans, approximately 80 percent of them contribute.  This bipartisan bill will help promote retirement security by making it easier and less expensive for small businesses to establish retirement plans, increasing their accessibility to employees and helping to ensure that those who worked hard for decades do not spend their retirement in poverty.” 

“Too many Americans simply aren’t putting enough money away to be able to afford a secure retirement. It is no secret that women, especially women of color, are even farther behind in building adequate retirement savings due to continued pay inequality. By helping more small businesses provide workplace retirement plans we can give millions of hardworking families more financial peace of mind,” said Rep. Sánchez. “I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan, bicameral legislation to make it easier and less expensive for small businesses to establish retirement plans for their workers. This common sense legislation will help provide greater retirement security to more Americans.”

“It is imperative we do everything we can to encourage affordable and accessible retirement savings for all Americans,” said Rep. Roe. “This commonsense legislation will make it easier and less costly for small businesses to provide retirement plans for their workers by alleviating duplicative reporting requirements for plan administrators. I am proud to support this bill, which will promote a secure retirement for hardworking Americans.” 

A 2016 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts showed that only 22 percent of workers at small companies have access to a workplace savings plan or pension, compared to 74 of workers at firms with 500 or more employees.  

This legislation would allow employers and sole proprietors who participate in retirement plans to file a single aggregated Form 5500 – a required annual return that that provides compliance information to the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Treasury Department. Currently, employers are required to file separate forms to satisfy reporting requirements under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and the Internal Revenue Code. By eliminating the need to report these two forms separately, this bill will remove unnecessary red tape and reduce costs for small businesses who wish to provide workers with retirement security. Under this bill, retirement plans would need to have the same trustee, fiduciary, plan administrator, plan year and investment menu in order to be eligible to file an aggregated Form 5500.

According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, in collaboration with Aegon Center for Longevity and Retirement, only one-third of self-employed respondents indicated that they make sure they are saving for retirement. These self-employed workers, along with sole proprietors and small business owners, are the most likely to benefit from this legislation, as they are the most likely to establish retirement plans that meet the requirements necessary to file an aggregated Form 5500. 

To provide DOL and Treasury time to implement this change, this bill has an effective date of no later than January 1, 2023. A copy of the legislative text is available here.

 

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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) in a letter urging the Administration to stabilize the Medicare Advantage program that provides quality health care to 21 million seniors and individuals with disabilities. The senators wrote to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma requesting she consider how to strengthen the program, innovate with technology and ensure predictability for enrollees. 

“Millions of our constituents depend on Medicare Advantage for quality, patient-centered health care,” the senators wrote. “Beneficiary enthusiasm for the program remains strong, with more than one in three seniors enrolled…For plan year 2020, we encourage the Administration to implement policies that promote innovation, provide predictable funding to support long-term, value-based arrangements and ensure that any substantive changes include sufficient time for thorough evaluation and stakeholder engagement.” 

In addition to Senators Cortez Masto and Mike Crapo, Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Jeffrey Merkley (D-Ore.), Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Angus King (I-Maine), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), John Hoeven (RN.D.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Thomas Carper (D-Del.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Bill Cassidy (R-La), Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), David Perdue (R-Ga.), John Thune (RS.D.), Shelley Capito (RW.Va.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Lindsey Graham (RS.C.), Tim Scott (RS.C.), Michael Rounds (RS.D.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Richard Burr (RN.C.), Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.), Tom Udall (DN.M.), Martin Heinrich (DN.M.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Kevin Cramer (RN.D.) also signed onto the letter. 

The full text of the letter is available HERE and below:

 

Dear Administrator Verma:

 

We write to express our strong support for Medicare Advantage and the high-quality care it provides to more than 21 million seniors and individuals with disabilities. We appreciate the Administration’s recognition of the value of Medicare Advantage and its work to encourage innovation for these private health plans. As annual updates are considered for 2020, we ask you to continue to strengthen and grow this proven part of the Medicare program by proposing policies that provide stability and predictability.

 

Millions of our constituents depend on Medicare Advantage for quality, patient-centered health care. Beneficiary enthusiasm for the program remains strong, with more than one in three seniors enrolled. This is due, in part, to private plans’ ability to leverage best practices in care delivery, use robust data analytics, and implement proven value-based care and care management models. Medicare Advantage enrollees report a 91 percent satisfaction rate, with 74 percent of enrollees in plans rated four Stars and above.

 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently announced average Medicare Advantage premiums are estimated to decrease by six percent in 2019. Meanwhile, beneficiary enrollment has increased by eight percent in the past year and 79 percent since 2010, a testament to the affordability, high-quality care coordination, disease management and community-based programs, and supplemental benefits such as vision and dental coverage provided by Medicare Advantage plans. Further, bipartisan efforts are helping to reduce beneficiary costs by increasing the use of telemedicine, promoting value-based insurance design, and expanding benefits that address social determinants of health by including transportation, nutrition, and other non-medical needs that enhance quality of life.

 

For plan year 2020, we encourage the Administration to implement policies that promote innovation, provide predictable funding to support long-term, value-based arrangements, and ensure that any substantive changes include sufficient time for thorough evaluation and stakeholder engagement.

 

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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), the Chairman of the Aging Committee, and Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced the SIMPLE Plan Modernization Act to provide greater flexibility and access to small businesses and their employees seeking to utilize the popular SIMPLE plans as an option for saving for retirement.   

“Financial advisors from Presque Isle to Portland have shared their concerns that neither employees nor their employers are in a good position to save for retirement,” said Senator Collins.  “The SIMPLE Plan Modernization Act is a win-win proposition for retirement security, encouraging small business owners and their employees to take steps to save for retirement.”

“The changing nature of work has made it more challenging for many Americans to plan for their retirement,” said Senator Warner.“This commonsense legislation will make it easier for small businesses to support their workforce in saving for retirement.”

Congress established SIMPLE (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees) retirement plans in the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996 to encourage small businesses to provide their employees with retirement plans.  Retirement plans among small employers continue to be scarcer than among medium and large employers.  While these smaller businesses have access to tax-favored retirement savings plans (including traditional 401(k)s), those plans are more expensive to administer. 

Businesses with 100 or fewer employees may currently create SIMPLE retirement savings accounts for their employees, so long as the employers do not have another employer-sponsored retirement plan.

The proposed legislation would increase the contribution limit for SIMPLE plans.  Increasing the limit would achieve two basic goals: 1) Encourage more small business employers to offer a retirement savings benefit to their employees and 2) Allow small business employees to save even more each year on a tax-deferred basis.

 

The SIMPLE Plan Modernization Act would:

  1. Raise the contribution limit for SIMPLE plans from $12,500 to $16,000 (halfway between current SIMPLE plans and traditional 401(k)s) for the smallest businesses (1 to 25 employees), with a corresponding increase in the catch-up limit from $3,000 to $4,500.
  1. Give businesses with 26 to 100 employees the option of the higher contribution limits, and, in order to continue to encourage them to transition to 401(k)s when they can do so, increase their SIMPLE plan mandatory employer contribution requirements by one percentage point if they elect the higher limits.   
  1. Allow for a reasonable transition period for employers that grow beyond 25 employees.
  1. Make the limit increases unavailable if the employer has had another defined contribution plan within the past three years (to encourage businesses that already have qualified plans to retain them).
  1. Modernize SIMPLE plan form filing requirements and modify the transition rules from SIMPLE plans to traditional plans to facilitate and encourage such transitions. 
  1. Direct Treasury to study the use of SIMPLE plans and report to Congress on such use, along with any recommendations.

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), and Mark Warner (D-VA) today released a draft version of the Patient Affordability, Value and Efficiency Act, bipartisan legislation they are developing to facilitate new and innovative payment models for pharmaceuticals and other medical services so that patients have better access to treatment, the health care market is more efficient, and drug prices are more affordable. 

Cassidy and Warner are requesting feedback from all interested parties to ensure highly technical changes enabling value-based arrangements are thoroughly vetted, and that important oversight protections are preserved. Submissions should be emailed to Dr. Cassidy’s office at paveact@cassidy.senate.gov and to Sen. Warner’s office at paveact@warner.senate.gov by February 19, 2019.

“To lower the cost of health care, we should leverage new ideas and new approaches, and I’m proud Louisiana is helping to lead the way,” said Dr. Cassidy. “We are crafting this legislation to implement innovative, market-based solutions to increase patient access to care and make medications more affordable.”

“In recent years, skyrocketing prescription drug prices and health costs have made it more difficult for Americans and communities to access lifesaving care,” said Sen. Warner. “That’s why I’ve teamed up with Sen. Cassidy to re-align the way Americans are charged for prescription drugs and other health care costs. With input from experts and key stakeholders, we’ll be able to ensure that pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers are incentivized to develop more effective treatments at a better price.”

The Cassidy-Warner proposal increases the ability to move toward value-based arrangements, which directly connect pricing for prescription drugs and medical devices to the clinical effectiveness of their products. Current healthcare law unintentionally restricts the ability of insurers, hospitals and clinics to pay for prescription drugs or medical devices based upon their proven effectiveness. The Patient Affordability, Value and Efficiency Act would provide for narrowly tailored exemptions to help drive down prescription drug and medical device costs while incentivizing manufacturers to create products that effectively treat patients.

In October, Dr. Cassidy coauthored an article for the Journal of the American Medical Association(JAMA) with Mark Trusheim of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dr. Peter Bach of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center explaining their idea for a “Netflix” model to pay for drugs. This draft legislation restructures current barriers to allow the implementation of these kinds of innovative models. 

 

Cassidy and Warner’s efforts are supported by a number of patient groups:

  • CureDuchenne
  • Cure Sanfilippo Foundation
  • Debra of America
  • Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance
  • Global Genes - Allies in Rare Disease
  • MLD Foundation
  • MTM-CNM Family Connection
  • Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation
  • Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy – PPMD
  • Prevent Cancer Foundation
  • Power for Parkinson’s
  • Soft Bones, The Hypophosphatasia Foundation
  • The Michael J. Fox Foundation
  • The Joshua Frase Foundation

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine announced $5,788,425 in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to support HIV relief efforts in Norfolk. The goal of the project is to enhance access to effective, cost efficient, community-based care for low-income individuals and families with HIV.

“We are pleased to announce federal funding to help those with HIV in Norfolk get the care they deserve,” the Senators said.  

The funding was awarded through HHS’s HIV Emergency Relief Project Grant program. The grant program provides funding to communities that have been the most affected by the HIV epidemic in order to improve access to comprehensive care and increase support for minority populations.

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine announced $2,238,496 in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for the Loudoun Community Health Center. This funding will enable Loudoun County to provide accessible, quality health care to patients regardless of their ability to pay.

“We’re pleased to announce federal funding to ensure the Loudoun Community Health Center can continue to offer valuable care to those in need of support,” the Senators said. “The Health Center helps ensure that patients of any economic background can access the medical, dental, and mental health services they need.” 

This funding was awarded through HHS’s Health Resources & Services Administration Health Center Program. More than 27 million people in the U.S. rely on HRSA-funded health centers for affordable primary health care.

 

WASHINGTON – Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) today in urging the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to do everything in its power to prevent the termination of dental and vision insurance coverage for federal employees affected by the partial government shutdown. In a letter to OPM, the Senators stood up for the federal employees who risk losing their coverage unless they pay out of pocket for premiums that would usually be deducted from their paychecks.

“Your guidance to employees has been insufficient and fails to account for the significant financial strain already placed on these employees and their families,” wrote the Senators. “If the status quo persists, you are undoubtedly risking the health and wellness of federal workers, their spouses, and children enrolled in federal vision and dental plans. We have already heard from individuals who are worried about what this will mean for them and their health care needs.”

“We believe it is unreasonable to expect unpaid employees to take on this financial responsibility,” continued the Senators. “Instead, we ask that you immediately work with federal contractors administering these dental and vision benefits to develop alternative payment arrangements that ensure continuous coverage at no risk of terminated benefits. In addition, we ask that – upon any such agreement – you immediately reissue guidance to employees who are in jeopardy of having their benefits terminated.”

OPM recently announced that many federal employees enrolled in the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program will be billed directly for their premiums after the date of their second missed pay period – as soon as this Friday. This notice places additional financial pressure on strained government employees who are already struggling to pay for expenses like childcare and mortgages.

The full text of the letter is available here and below.

 

January 23, 2019

Margaret Weichert

Acting Director

U.S. Office of Personnel Management

1900 E Street NW, Washington, DC 20415

Dear Acting Director Weichert:

We write today concerning federal employees that may lose their dental and vision health insurance benefits as a result of the government shutdown. As you may know, if the current lapse in government funding continues more than 800,000 federal employees will miss their second pay period. From this time forward – federal employees with dental and vision insurance must also begin to pay their premiums directly to BENEFEDS or risk having their coverage terminated.

Recent guidance from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to federal employees’ enrolled in the BENEFEDS dental and vision plans states:

“Payroll deductions will cease for any employee that does not receive pay. BENEFEDS will generate a bill to enrollees for premiums when no payment is received for two consecutive pay periods. The enrollee should pay premiums directly billed to him/her on a timely basis to ensure continuation of coverage.”

The above guidance will require federal employees to tap into their savings and pay these costs or risk having their coverage terminated. We are alarmed that unpaid federal employees will be required to incur this additional financial hardship during a time when they can least afford it. This is unacceptable.

Your guidance to employees has been insufficient and fails to account for the significant financial strain already placed on these employees and their families. If the status quo persists, you are undoubtedly risking the health and wellness of federal workers, their spouses, and children enrolled in federal vision and dental plans. We have already heard from individuals who are worried about what this will mean for them and their health care needs. We also understand that certain insurers are willing to allow individuals to continue their coverage without payment, and we encourage OPM to continue to work with all insurers to help members maintain continuity of coverage.

We believe it is unreasonable to expect unpaid employees to take on this financial responsibility. Instead, we ask that you immediately work with federal contractors administering these dental and vision benefits to develop alternative payment arrangements that ensure continuous coverage at no risk of terminated benefits. In addition, we ask that – upon any such agreement – you immediately reissue guidance to employees who are in jeopardy of having their benefits terminated.

Thank you for your attention to this letter. If our offices can be further helpful in resolving this matter please do not hesitate to contact us. 

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) led a group of 38 Senators in calling on the Trump Administration to withdraw recent changes that makes it easier for states to promote “junk” plans. These health care plans typically lack protections for people with pre-existing conditions and would increase costs for millions of Americans. Under the Administration’s new guidance, states can use federal subsidies to pay for these subpar plans by utilizing a section of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) intended to give states additional flexibility to implement targeted improvements that expand coverage, reduce costs and provide more comprehensive benefits. The Senators argue that the Administration is improperly using Section 1332 to allow states to do the exact opposite. 

“We have serious concerns they will increase health care costs for millions of consumers while weakening protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions. In light of substantive concerns that we have with the impact on patients, and procedural concerns that we have with the manner in which these significant policy changes have been promulgated, we ask that you immediately withdraw this guidance and re-engage with stakeholders, states, and Congress,” said the Senators in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. 

The Senators made it clear these actions did not reflect Congress’ intent in creating the 1332 waiver program, stating “the Administration’s recent guidance significantly changes enforcement of these four important guardrails, undermining Congressional intent and posing a significant risk to consumers that now have affordable and comprehensive health coverage.”

Additionally the proposed changes, which were outlined in guidance provided by the Administration and a discussion paper released a few months back, will allow states to increase out-of-pocket maximums and reduce the value of coverage, weaken essential health benefits, and implement changes that increase health care costs for the majority of beneficiaries if a state can demonstrate costs will be lower for some.

 

“We ask that you immediately withdraw this guidance and work with us and other stakeholders on policies that maintain protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions and improve affordability,” concluded the Senators.

 

In October, Senators forced a vote in the Senate on a discharge petition that would have blocked the Trump Administration’s rule to expand “junk insurance” plans. The measure was supported by 50 Senators, including one Republican. Ultimately, the petition did not receive the simple majority needed to pass the Senate and send it to the U.S. House of Representatives.

 

In addition to Sens. Warner, Cardin, Shaheen, and Baldwin, the letter was signed by Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Coons (D-DE), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Gary Peters (D-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ed Markey (D-MA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Patty Murray (D-WA), Angus King (I-ME), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Doug Jones (D-AL), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), and Brian Schatz (D-HI).

 

The full text of the letter can be found here and below.

 

The Honorable Seema Verma

Administrator                                                                

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services          

7500 Security Boulevard                                      

Baltimore, MD 21244                                                      

 

The Honorable Alex Azar                                                    

Secretary                                                                            

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services                

200 Independence Avenue, SW                                          

Washington, DC 20201                                                       

 

The Honorable Steven Mnuchin

Secretary

U.S. Department of the Treasury

1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20220

 

Dear Secretary Azar, Administrator Verma and Secretary Mnuchin:

We write to express concern with the Administration’s October 22 guidance and November 29 discussion paper on new options for states pursuing a Section 1332 waiver under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The new guidance and discussion paper promote health plans that lack protections for people with pre-existing conditions and low-income families enshrined in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) guidance released in 2015 and adopt new principles that were not envisioned by Congress. We have serious concerns they will increase health care costs for millions of consumers while weakening protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions. In light of substantive concerns that we have with the impact on patients, and procedural concerns that we have with the manner in which these significant policy changes have been promulgated, we ask that you immediately withdraw this guidance and re-engage with stakeholders, states, and Congress.

Section 1332 of the ACA gives states additional flexibility to implement state-specific improvements that expand coverage, reduce costs and provide more comprehensive benefits. In fact, Congress enacted so-called “guardrails” that waiver proposals must meet in order for the Secretary to approve them. Specifically, waivers must ensure 1) health coverage is at least as comprehensive as it would be under the ACA, 2) cost-sharing and premiums are as affordable as they would be under the ACA, 3) the number of individuals with coverage remains comparable to the number of individuals covered under the ACA, and 4) the waiver does not increase the Federal deficit.

The Administration’s recent guidance significantly changes enforcement of these four important guardrails, undermining Congressional intent and posing a significant risk to consumers that now have affordable and comprehensive health coverage. The “waiver concepts,” published after the release of the recent guidance, suggests that the Secretary will permit states to use Federal subsidies for the purchase of short-term, limited-duration (STLDI) “junk plans” that do not meet Federal patient protections. The new guidance will also allow states to count junk plans as health insurance when determining how many individuals are enrolled in coverage.

This change will allow states to enroll more individuals in subpar plans that do not offer essential health benefits such as mental health care, maternity care, prescription drug coverage or substance use disorder treatment. Additionally, these subpar plans can discriminate against individuals with pre-existing conditions, older Americans and women by excluding these essential benefits. These plans may also charge certain customers more for their coverage, deny coverage entirely, impose annual and lifetime limits on care, and other anti-consumer practices. This use of federal tax dollars for subpar, often deceptively-marketed insurance that barely provides coverage at all is completely unacceptable.

It is important to note that hospitals, insurers, patient groups and independent health experts have all agreed that the increased use of these junk plans will increase the cost of health care coverage for many Americans, undercut protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions and erode stability in the health insurance markets.

In addition to the increased use of junk plans, the discussion paper makes clear that the Secretary will also give states more flexibility to increase out-of-pocket maximums and reduce the value of coverage, weaken essential health benefits, and implement changes that increase health care costs for those who need it most if a state can demonstrate costs will be lower in the aggregate. We have serious concerns about how these changes will impact the quality and affordability of coverage, especially for vulnerable sub-populations.

Furthermore, we are concerned that this guidance may exceed the Secretary’s legal authority by not requiring Congressional approval to change existing law and by subverting the full notice and comment rule-making process. The guidance violates the statute by allowing states to provide “access to” instead of “provision of” affordable and comprehensive coverage to at least the same number of residents. It also redefines “health insurance” to include plans that lack the ACA’s consumer protections. In addition, by forgoing Congressional approval and the rule-making process the Administration has excluded an opportunity for public comment from millions of Americans and other stakeholders that will be impacted by these changes. In contrast, the Department finalized the 2015 guidance only after taking into account feedback from stakeholders and experts. The Department finalized this new guidance immediately, without getting any vital input from affected stakeholders.

For these reasons, we ask that you immediately withdraw this guidance and work with us and other stakeholders on policies that maintain protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions and improve affordability. Thank you for your consideration of our letter and we look forward to your response.                      

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON— Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that Virginia will receive $6,349,505 in federal funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to combat the opioid epidemic. The funds will help Virginia communities combat this crisis by expanding access to quality substance use disorder and mental health services, including in rural populations. 

 “Communities across the Commonwealth have been devastated by the epidemic of opioid abuse that continues to spread across the country,” said the Senators. “These funds will help Virginia stem the alarming rise in overdose deaths and increase prevention and treatment efforts that will help save lives.”

The opioid epidemic has devastated many communities across Virginia. In 2017, the Virginia Department of Health estimated that 1,445 people died in Virginia as a result of a fentanyl, heroin, or prescription opioid overdose. Fatal drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in Virginia, surpassing car accidents and gun violence.

Last week, the Senators voted in support of a funding bill that provides approximately $5.7 billion to respond to the opioid crisis by developing non-opioid pain medication, and behavioral health workforce training. Sens. Warner and Kaine also celebrated the passage of a comprehensive opioid substance abuse bill that included their own previously introduced legislation.

The full list of grant awardees is below:

GRANTEE

CITY 

TOTAL 

Neighborhood Health

Alexandria

$285,000

Urban Strategies LLC

Arlington

$200,000

Blue Ridge Medical Center Inc.

Arrington

$285,000

One Care Of Southwest Virginia, Inc.             

Cedar Bluff

$200,000

Free Clinic Of The New River Valley Inc.

Christiansburg

$285,000

Piedmont Access To Health Services Inc.

Danville

$285,000

Clinch River Health Services, Inc.

Dungannon

$210,000

Harrisonburg Community Health Center, Inc.

Harrisonburg

$285,000

St Charles Health Council Inc.

Jonesville

$329,250

Tri-Area Community Health

Laurel Fork

$285,000

Rockbridge Area Free Clinic

Lexington

$257,371

Johnson Health Center

Madison Heights

$285,000

Martinsville Henry County Coalition For Health And Wellness

Martinsville

$217,644

Highland Medical Center

Monterey

$224,500

Central Virginia Health Services, Inc.

New Canton

$206,750

Peninsula Institute For Community Health, Inc.

Newport News

$285,000

Portsmouth Community Health Center, Inc.

Portsmouth

$285,000

Daily Planet Inc.

Richmond

$297,500

Richmond, City Of

Richmond

$285,000

Kuumba Community Health & Wellness Center, Inc.

Roanoke

$186,133

Southwest Virginia Community Health Systems, Inc.

Saltville

$237,773

Bay Rivers Telehealth Alliance

Tappahannock

$200,000

Greater Prince William Area Community Health Center, Inc.

Woodbridge

$285,000

Virginia Department of Health

Richmond

$200,000

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine celebrated Senate passage of the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, a comprehensive substance abuse treatment bill to address the national addiction crisis. The bipartisan bill passed 99-1 after months of work in several Senate committees. The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 includes four proposals from Warner that initially passed out of the Senate Finance Committee as part of the Helping to End Addiction and Lessen (HEAL) Substance Use Disorders Act of 2018. This comprehensive package also includes three Kaine proposals that passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee as part of an earlier version of The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018.

“The opioid epidemic has devastated communities across Virginia. In order to save lives, we need a comprehensive strategy that tackles the opioid epidemic at all fronts, and this bipartisan legislation offers a much-needed roadmap to combat this national crisis. This bill addresses many of the challenges our health professionals and law enforcement face when confronting the opioid addiction epidemic. It also recognizes that addiction and recovery doesn’t look the same for everyone everywhere. From establishing telehealth services to better equip underserved communities with substance abuse treatment to providing specialized care for infants suffering from opioid withdrawal, this bill makes significant steps to fight the opioid epidemic,” said Warner.

“The opioid epidemic has taken lives and hurt families in Virginia and across the country. We’re past due for comprehensive legislation that can address the public health and law enforcement challenges that our communities are facing. This bipartisan, comprehensive package puts forth concrete changes that can help us begin to break the harmful cycle of addiction and address the drug overdoses that are plaguing our communities. We must tackle this crisis from all angles, including prevention, treatment, and recovery,” Kaine said.

Warner and Kaine have worked to drive forward legislation to combat the substance abuse epidemic, which in 2017 accounted for more than 72,000 deaths nationwide.

Warner, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, voted to advance the Helping to End Addiction and Lessen (HEAL) Substance Use Disorders Act of 2018 out of the Senate Finance Committee in June. The bill passed out of committee on a bipartisan 27-0 vote and included provisions from four Warner bills to:

  • Expand telehealth services for substance abuse treatment.
  • Make clear how Medicaid funds can be used for substance use disorder treatment through telehealth.
  • Help ensure children suffering from substance use disorders receive the assistance they need through telehealth services.
  • Improve data collection on substance use disorders among Medicaid recipients.

Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, voted to pass the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 out of the Senate HELP Committee in April. The bill was the result of seven bipartisan hearings and included proposals from three Kaine bills to:

In March, Sens. Warner and Kaine voted for the omnibus bill that increased funding to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to support programs related to the opioid crisis, including an additional $2.8 billion for treatment, prevention and research.

 

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WASHINGTON— Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) cosponsored legislation to overturn President Trump’s expansion of “junk insurance” plans. The Trump Administration recently released its final regulation on allowing Short-term Limited Duration Insurance (STLD) plans to expand eligibility for bare-bones health insurance plans, which do not have to provide the same level of minimum coverage as individual policies sold under the Affordable Care Act. According to experts, this move will undermine protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions by allowing insurance companies to market and sell more plans without vital consumer protections. In addition, this change will destabilize our country’s health care system and drive up health care costs for patients by shrinking the number of individuals in plans on the individual insurance marketplace. 

The resolution of disapproval introduced in the Senate and cosponsored by 44 Senators, including Sens. Warner and Kaine, would rescind the final “junk insurance” plan rule. Congressional Review Act (CRA) disapproval resolutions that obtain the support of 30 Senators on a discharge petition force a vote on the Senate floor. Senators now have the support needed to file a discharge petition and force a vote under the CRA. A simple majority vote in the Senate would pass the resolution and send it to the House of Representatives.

“Virginians have a lot to lose if the Trump Administration is allowed to continue its policy allowing junk plans that will deny coverage to those with preexisting conditions and take away access to essential services like prescription drugs, emergency room visits, and maternity care,” said the Senators. “Congress should overturn this misguided attempt to undermine these critical consumer protections and refocus on reducing the growing insurance costs caused by the President’s ongoing attempts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act.”

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACSCAN) has said President Trump’s rule “poses a serious threat to cancer patients’ ability to access quality, affordable health coverage.” ACSCAN also said the rule “will likely leave older and sicker Americans in the individual insurance marketplace with few, if any, affordable health coverage choices” and that “patients living with serious conditions will be left paying more for the coverage they need if they can afford coverage at all.” 

For months, Sens. Warner and Kaine have been sounding the alarm on President Trump’s plans to undermine protections for people with pre-existing conditions by expanding health care plans that do not have many vital consumer protections. They have urged the Administration to take swift action to stabilize the insurance marketplace and halt the expansion of “junk” health insurance plans.  

In addition to Sens. Warner and Kaine, the resolution is cosponsored by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Bob Casey (D-PA), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Doug Jones (D-AL), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

 

Text of the resolution is available here.

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine announced $416,248 in federal funding for James City County to prevent violence against women. The funds will be used toward a program that will educate domestic violence survivors about risk factors for homicide and provide them with support services, train and educate criminal justice professionals and allied agencies on best practices to investigate and prosecute crimes against women, and identify potential high-risk offenders. The money is awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice through the Violence Against Women Act.

“We are proud to announce this federal funding to help James City County address and prevent violence against women,” the Senators said. “We are thankful to local leaders who are collaborating with non-profits and criminal justice professionals to protect the community.”

In 2013, Warner and Kaine supported the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, a bill that authorized the funding available in today’s grant and created essential protections for survivors of sexual violence and domestic abuse.  Congress must reauthorize the law, which expires every five years, before the end of the month.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner today introduced bipartisan legislation, co-sponsored by Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), to boost participation in federal programs that detect and treat black lung disease among coal miners.

According to a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health, cases of black lung are at a 25-year high in Appalachian coal mining states, with as many as one in five underground coal miners in the region having evidence of black lung. In order to address this worsening public health crisis, Sen. Warner has filed an amendment to the defense, labor, health and education spending package currently under consideration on the floor of the U.S. Senate aiming to improve the participation rate of coal miners in federal health surveillance programs that detect and treat black lung. Specifically, the amendment requires the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to submit a report to Congress on ways to boost outreach efforts to increase participation in the Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program (CWHSP) and to identify barriers that deter miners with black lung from accessing treatment. CWHSP is a national program that offers free health screening services to coal miners, including chest X-rays, lung function testing, respiratory health assessment questionnaires, and extended health surveillance. However, the current national participation rate in CWHSP is approximately 35 percent among active miners and even lower among retirees.

“Black lung is a deadly disease, but the earlier it’s detected, the better the outcomes are. Underground coal miners help keep the heat and the lights on, but often at a significant cost to their own health. By improving outreach efforts, we can make sure that more miners are getting screened so we can catch cases of black lung early, and make sure that they can get the treatment they need,” said Sen. Warner.

“West Virginia coal miners have worked tirelessly for decades to keep industries and communities in this country moving,”Sen. Capito said. “These resources dedicated to the early detection of black lung could be life-saving for thousands of hardworking West Virginians. Amazing work is being done in this area by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Respiratory Health Division in Morgantown, and I am honored to help that work continue and provide assistance to those who have given so much to our state.” 

“Virginia’s coal miners have worked for decades, often at the expense of their own health, to keep the country’s lights on, and we owe it to them to ensure they’re aware of their options to access black lung detection and treatment resources,”said Sen. Kaine.

“Coal miners sacrifice a lot to keep our lights on, heat our homes, and power our businesses, including their own health. Black lung cases are at a 25-year high and with today’s technology and our knowledge of this disease, that is simply unacceptable. Our amendment will make sure more miners participate in early detection so we can catch it and treat it quicker. The health and safety of our miners should always be our number one priority and I will be fighting for this amendment to be included in the final spending bill,” Sen. Manchin said.

“No worker should have to sacrifice their health and safety on the job to provide for their family,” said Sen. Casey. “Black lung claims too many lives but the earlier it’s detected the better chance individuals have fighting its impact. We owe it to our nation’s miners to put in place policies that help detect and prevent this fatal disease.”  

“Ohio miners put their health at risk to power our country. Finding ways to increase outreach and miner participation in the screenings that help prevent and manage conditions like black lung is the least we can do,” said Sen. Brown.

“Eliminating barriers to participation in the Coal Worker’s Health Surveillance Program is a strong first step towards improving the health and wellness of active and retired coal miners in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This amendment will assist Congress in determining how to improve the Program, thereby enabling it to best serve miners. The amendment could also lead to better participation in the Surveillance Program, help save lives, improve early identification of black lung, and ultimately improve health outcomes for current and future health center patients throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. We support this amendment to H.R. 6157 and encourage its inclusion in the final version of the appropriations package,” said Rick Shinn, Virginia Community Healthcare Association, Director of Government Affairs.

“The NIOSH Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program is vital to the detection of Black Lung Disease. Ensuring Program access to as many active and non-active coal miners as possible will help miners be aware of their health status, reduce continued exposure to harmful dust, and seek treatment as early as possible. This amendment will assist Congress in determining how to improve the Program, thereby enabling it to best serve miners,” said James L. Werth, Jr., PhD, Stone Mountain Health Services, Black Lung Program Director.

Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate for coal miners and their families. In 2017, Sen. Warner reintroduced the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act to ensure black lung claims are processed fairly and quickly, and he has pushed for more funding for black lung health clinics in Virginia. In December, he joined several of his colleagues in urging Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta to keep the Respirable Dust Rule to protect mine safety and miners health. Last year, Sen. Warner successfully fought to permanently protect more than 10,000 retired coal miners and their families in Virginia who were in danger of losing their health benefits. He has also introduced the American Miners Pension Act, which would protect the pensions of more than 7,000 retired Virginia coal miners who are in danger of losing their benefits if the 1974 UMWA Pension Plan becomes insolvent.

 

Text of Sen. Warner’s amendment is available here.

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine announced $400,000 in federal funding for the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County Drug Court Program and $350,000 in federal funding for the Richmond Adult Drug Treatment Court (RADTC) Program.

“We are pleased to announce funding to ensure drug courts in Virginia can provide treatment services, enhance public safety, and reduce crime in local communities. Drug courts are a critical part of our criminal justice system because they focus on prevention and rehabilitation, so those suffering from addiction have a better chance at recovery and are less likely to commit crimes in the future, ” the Senators said.

The funding was awarded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) has approved $500,000 in grant funding for St. Mary’s Health Wagon, a non-profit organization that provides health services to underserved individuals. The funding will be used to construct a new healthcare clinic in Clintwood, Va. that is expected to serve 3,500 uninsured and underinsured patients annually.

“Every year, the Health Wagon helps thousands of Virginians get access to healthcare they otherwise could not afford. As Governors and as Senators, we have been proud to support the important work of the Health Wagon. Worthy projects such as this clinic are why we have fought so hard in Washington to protect funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission. This new facility in Dickenson County will allow the Health Wagon to continue providing health, vision and dental services to underserved patients in Southwest Virginia,” said the Senators. 

“We are so pleased that ARC chose to fund a much-needed construction grant for a brand-new stationary free health clinic in Dickenson County, the county where St. Mary’s Health Wagon began almost forty years ago. The Health Wagon is the region’s only free clinic, serving Lee, Scott, Wise, Dickenson, Buchanan and Russell Counties and is a medical home to over 10,000 patients. The new free clinic will be located in Clintwood, Virginia, and will bring a variety of new innovative patient resources and economic benefits such as medical tourism and new jobs to the region.  The new clinic will have dedicated optometry, dental, ultrasound and x-ray suites,” said Dr. Teresa Tyson, Health Wagon Executive Director.

The current Health Wagon clinic in Clintwood has only two exam rooms, limiting the ability of physicians to accommodate patient needs. Construction of the new 5,000-square foot clinic will provide additional exam rooms for medical, dental, and vision care services, as well as administrative offices and spaces for x-ray, pharmacy, laboratory and telehealth use. Governor McAuliffe recommended funding for this project at the end of tenure, which has now been formally approved by ARC.

ARC project grants are awarded to local and state government entities and non-profits. The ARC funds are then matched by local funding sources. In addition to the ARC funds, local sources will provide $730,600, bringing the total project funding to more than $1.2 million. Since its inception in 1965, ARC has generated over 300,000 jobs and $10 billion for the 25 million Americans living in Appalachia. ARC has provided funding and support for job-creating community projects across the 13 Appalachian states, producing an average of $204 million in annual earnings for a region often challenged by economic underdevelopment. President Trump’s 2018 budget proposed eliminating the program entirely. Warner and Kaine have continued to vote to fully fund ARC.

As Governors, Warner and Kaine both advocated for additional funding for the Health Wagon, a partner in the annual Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinic that provides dental care, exams and treatment at no cost.

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