Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) released a statement today following a decision by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to include Warren County in the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Program:

“Despite increased public awareness about the dangers of opioids, this epidemic continues to devastate families all across the Commonwealth,” said the Senators. “We applaud the Office of National Drug Control Policy for including Warren County in the Washington/Baltimore HIDTA Program. We look forward to seeing these federal resources put to use to prevent future tragedies in Warren County as we continue working to channel additional federal dollars to fight this ongoing crisis.”

Opioid overdoses have surpassed car accidents and gun violence as the leading cause of accidental death in Virginia, with more than 1,500 overdose-related deaths in 2017. In Warren County alone, pharmacies distributed an average of 45 opioid pills per person, per year between 2006 and 2012.

HIDTA, a program created by Congress, is designed to facilitate law enforcement coordination at the federal, state, local, and tribal level in areas designated as critical drug-trafficking regions. In addition to facilitating law enforcement cooperation, HIDTA aims to enhance the sharing of intelligence among law enforcement agencies, facilitate the design of effective enforcement strategies and operations, and support coordinated law enforcement strategies in order to reduce the supply of illegal drugs in the United States.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have long advocated for increased federal funding to combat the opioid epidemic in Virginia. Last year, the Senators worked to successfully pass bipartisan legislation to help communities across Virginia by improving opioid treatment and recovery efforts and providing new tools for law enforcement. In 2016, Sens. Warner and Kaine also successfully advocated for the inclusion of other Virginia counties into HIDTA.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) urged the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) to bring up for approval the leasing prospectuses for two VA outpatient clinics in Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg when Congress returns in September. Both prospectuses received the approval of the Office of Management and Budget earlier this month and must now get a green light from both the Senate EPW Committee and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

“These clinics are essential for veterans in the Commonwealth who face long wait-times due to insufficient capacity at existing VA medical facilities and a fast-growing veteran population,” wrote Sen. Warner. “The facilities in Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg will enable the VA to expand primary care, mental health and specialty care services, among other services to our veterans.”                                                                             

In 2017, Congress approved leases for 28 Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities around the country, including two in Virginia, thanks to Sen. Warner’s successful bipartisan efforts. 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 General Services Administration (GSA) while the new outpatient in Fredericksburg remained under the purview of the VA.

Following Sen. Warner’s multiple calls and letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney pushing the agency to swiftly review and approve the leasing prospectus in their possession, OMB signed off on the Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg clinics on July 30th and August 6th, respectively. Now, the prospectuses must be approved by the EPW and the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee in markup, signaling the last congressional approval step required to get the clinics open and operational.

Sen. Warner has long pushed the VA and GSA to get these clinics up and running quickly. Most recently, Sen. Warner wrote the VA and GSA to express outrage at “the glacial pace” of the two lease procurement projects, and to demand real plans from both for quickly completing the delayed projects.

“For many years I have worked hard to get these additional VA facilities built, with great frustration at the exceedingly slow pace of these projects. I have pressured the Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. General Services Administration to find ways to expedite their timelines for the building of these facilities. As of now, their timelines have the two facilities being finished in the fall of 2023, approximately six years after the leases were approved by Congress,” continued Sen. Warner. “I ask that under your leadership, your committee do everything possible to keep the process moving by reviewing and approving these prospectuses as soon as possible.”

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

 

Dear Chairman Barrasso and Ranking Member Carper:

I write to request that two prospectus documents and accompanying housing plans recently submitted to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) be included in the next markup your Committee holds in September. The two lease prospectus documents are for the procurement of two Community Based Outpatient Clinics for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg, both in Virginia. 

In 2017 Congress authorized leases for 28 VA facilities around the country, two of which – Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg – are in the Commonwealth of Virginia. These clinics are essential for veterans in the Commonwealth who face long wait-times due to insufficient capacity at existing VA medical facilities and a fast-growing veteran population. The facilities in Hampton Roads and Fredericksburg will enable the VA to expand primary care, mental health and specialty care services, among other services to our veterans.

At VA’s request, U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is running the lease procurement to deliver a Community Based Outpatient Clinic in South Hampton Roads in Virginia. Pursuant to Title 40, on August 1, 2019, GSA submitted a lease prospectus and housing plan for this project to the Senate EPW for its review and consideration. Additionally, on August 9, GSA submitted a lease prospectus and housing plan for a Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Fredericksburg, VA. GSA is seeking authorization to delegate its leasing authority to the VA so that they can run this lease procurement for Fredericksburg. I would request that the Committee pass resolutions authorizing GSA to move forward with both procurements.   

For many years I have worked hard to get these additional VA facilities built, with great frustration at the exceedingly slow pace of these projects. I have pressured the Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. General Services Administration to find ways to expedite their timelines for the building of these facilities. As of now, their timelines have the two facilities being finished in the fall of 2023, approximately six years after the leases were approved by Congress.

I ask that under your leadership, your committee do everything possible to keep the process moving by reviewing and approving these prospectuses as soon as possible. Thank you for your attention to this critical matter. If you or your staff have any questions about these facilities please contact Caroline Wadhams at Caroline_Wadhams@warner.senate.gov, or at 4-2418.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) reintroduced bipartisan legislation to improve burdensome employer reporting requirements under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Commonsense Reporting Act of 2019 would streamline and modernize ACA reporting requirements, ensuring that the Treasury Department has the necessary data to determine availability of affordable coverage, while cutting down on unnecessary paperwork and administrative costs for businesses. Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Adrian Smith (R-NE).

“Businesses in Virginia and across the nation are working hard to comply with our nation’s health care law, and we need to make sure they’re not being penalized due to flaws in the law,” said Sen. Warner. “By improving and modernizing the employer reporting system, this bipartisan legislation will take an important step towards making sure that our health care system works for everyone, including employers who strive to provide suitable coverage for their workers.”  

“We thank Senator Mark Warner for his leadership to improve the employer reporting system under the Affordable Care Act. Local businesses are challenged by extensive reporting requirements and paperwork mandates, especially with a flexible workforce. Capital Ale House supports commonsense, bipartisan legislation to streamline the employer reporting system and we appreciate Senator Warner’s efforts on this issue,” said Matthew Simmons, Co-Founder and President, Capital Ale House in Richmond, Va.

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

“The Commonsense Reporting Act moves employers to a voluntary reporting system and decreases the amount of information requested by the IRS and other agencies. This bipartisan legislation provides individual consumers with much-needed safety nets, employers with relief from the burdensome reporting requirements, and state and federal Exchanges with an additional tool to verify tax credit and subsidy eligibility. The federal government can lend businesses and workers a helping hand by streamlining burdensome reporting requirements and enacting this important reform, as employers would only need to report on employees that have purchased coverage through an Exchange rather than reporting for the entire workforce,” said Gary Cox, Ideal Insurance.

“I have heard from hundreds of employers in Ohio that have spent hundreds of administrative hours attempting to comply with the reporting requirements in the Affordable Care Act. This added time and resources has not improved the quality of health insurance employers offered but only further discouraged employers from offering health insurance and hiring more workers. This bipartisan bill will help streamline the reporting process by allowing employers to report information to the IRS prospectively, easing the burden for employers and employees,” said Sen. Portman.

“It’s critical to ensure that we are making health care as accessible as possible for patients and as easy as possible for businesses to offer. That’s why I am proud to reintroduce the Commonsense Reporting Act, a bipartisan bill to streamline the health insurance reporting process for employers and protect patients from unfair claw backs of their insurance subsidies by making tax credit determinations more accurate. This is a simple way to improve health care access for our communities and ensure businesses can better provide coverage,” said Rep. Thompson.

“Too often employers who provide health insurance are burdened with arbitrary reporting mandates such as those created by the Affordable Care Act. This legislation would create a more efficient reporting system, reducing the risk of surprise financial penalties for both employers and employees. I look forward to working with my colleagues to see this commonsense bill signed into law,” said Rep. Smith.

Currently, employers and insurers are required under the ACA to report health insurance coverage information to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) at the end of the tax year. However, these retrospective reporting requirements create a heavy back-end burden for employers and can lead to reporting discrepancies that end up subjecting employers to IRS tax penalties as well as additional compliance costs and burdens.

The Commonsense Reporting Act of 2019 directs the Treasury Department to implement an alternative, voluntary reporting system that allows employers to report pertinent information about their health plan to the IRS before open enrollment begins. It also modernizes the system by allowing electronic transmission of employee and enrollee statements rather than requiring that this information be sent through the mail. The legislation also limits the collection of useless data and safeguards personally identifiable information by clarifying that the IRS can accept full names and dates of birth in lieu of dependents’ and spouses’ Social Security numbers.

The Commonsense Reporting Act has also been endorsed by American Hotel & Lodging Association, American Rental Association, American Staffing Association, Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc., Associated General Contractors of America, Auto Care Association, the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers, Food Marketing Institute, HR policy Association, International Franchise Association, National Association of Health Underwriters, National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, National Restaurant Association, National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association, Society for Human Resource Management, NATSO for America’s Truck and Travel Stops, and National Association of Home Builders.

A summary of this legislation can be found here. The full text is available here.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led the Senate Democratic Caucus in introducing a Congressional Review Act resolution to stop the Trump Administration from pushing “junk plans” that don’t fully protect Americans with pre-existing conditions. Under the Trump Administration’s 1332 waiver rule, these junk plans once again allow insurance companies to discriminate against Americans based on their medical history in an effort to undermine the Affordable Care Act. Under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), this resolution must be considered within 60 legislative days of July 15 and can pass the Senate with the support of a simple majority of Senators. 

“It’s clear that the Trump Administration is determined to limit Americans’ access to health care and undermine protections for millions of people with pre-existing conditions,” said Sen. Warner. “The junk plans pushed forward by this Administration will inevitably disrupt our health care system, stripping basic coverage while increasing costs for Virginia families. Congress should protect coverage for vital services like prescription medicines, visits to the emergency room, and maternity care by overturning the Administration’s ill-advised plan to expand the use of junk plans. We have an opportunity here to send a message to the President that instead of attacking the Affordable Care Act, he must work with Congress on targeted, bipartisan fixes that will lower health care costs and expand access to comprehensive, affordable health care coverage.”

The resolution mirrors Sen. Warner’s legislation, Protecting Americans with Pre-existing Conditions Act, 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.

Sen. Warner was joined on the resolution by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and the entire Senate Democratic Caucus.

“After failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act through Congress, the Trump Administration has taken a series of steps to sabotage it, like pushing the use of plans that can discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions,” said Sen. Kaine. “With this resolution, we are standing up against the Administration’s attacks on health care and working to protect people with pre-existing conditions.”

“President Trump is proving yet again that we have to believe what he does, not what he says. That he can claim to care about protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions, while simultaneously rolling back pre-existing condition protections, reeks of the utmost hypocrisy,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). “I challenge my Republican colleagues who claim to support pre-existing condition protections to actually do something about it, and join us in voting in favor of our resolution to get rid of this harmful rule. When Senate Democrats force a vote on this resolution, we will see if Republicans finally put their money where their mouth is.”

The following organizations support the resolution: National Multiple Sclerosis Society, American Heart Association, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Pulmonary Hypertension Association, Mended Little Hearts, Hemophilia Federation of America, Chronic Disease Coalition, American Diabetes Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, National Organization for Rare Disorders, WomenHeart: the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, Susan G. Komen, Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, COPD Foundation, Muscular Dystrophy Association, National Hemophilia Foundation, Arthritis Foundation, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, National Psoriasis Foundation, Alpha-1 Foundation, ALS Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Immune Deficiency Foundation, March of Dimes, American Liver Foundation, National Health Council, National Patient Advocate Foundation, Protect Our Care, and the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship.

Democrats in the House of Representatives also announced support for the measure to block the Trump Administration from weakening pre-existing condition protections. An identical resolution will be introduced in the House by Rep. Annie Kuster (D-NH) when the House of Representatives returns to Washington in September.

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Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and 43 of her fellow Democratic senators sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar slamming the Trump-Pence Administration’s new gag rule that compromises the Title X family planning program and the health care of millions of people who rely on Title X-funded providers for cancer screenings, STI screenings, contraceptive care, family planning services, and more. The letter came as the Administration’s minimal and conflicting guidance about its harmful rule has caused confusion and concern among providers. The Senators called on the Trump Administration to reverse course on the rule and maintain the essential care Title X-funded clinics provide for over four million patients nationwide.

“Over the past few weeks, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has provided minimal and conflicting guidance to health care providers about how and when the Department intends to enforce the Trump Administration’s Title X rule. This rule will undermine the essential confidential nature of the patient-provider relationship at the nearly 4,000 health centers receiving Title X funding. It will also needlessly compromise health care for the millions of people who rely on the critical services provided by those centers, including comprehensive family planning and screening for diseases such as HIV and cancer. In light of this dangerous impact and the many concerns raised by health care providers, patients, and other stakeholders throughout the development of this rule, we believe the rule should be rescinded,” wrote the Senators.

“Four million patients who rely on Title X-funded programs now face limited options, as clinics and providers recognize the new regulation will force them to choose between receiving federal funds and upholding the confidential relationship between patient and health care provider,” the Senators warned.

The Trump Administration’s gag rule undermines the historically bipartisan Title X family planning program and will impact roughly 4,000 Title X-funded clinics operating in all 50 states. The rule interferes with the essential confidential nature of the patient-provider relationship and needlessly compromises health care for the millions of people—particularly poor and low-income patients—who seek care at Title X-funded clinics.

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

Read the full letter below or access the PDF version HERE:

 

July 26, 2019
 
The Honorable Alex M. Azar II                    
Secretary        
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services      
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20201
 
Dear Secretary Azar, 

Over the past few weeks, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has provided minimal and conflicting guidance to health care providers about how and when the Department intends to enforce the Trump Administration’s Title X rule. This rule will undermine the essential confidential nature of the patient-provider relationship at the nearly 4,000 health centers receiving Title X funding. It will also needlessly compromise health care for the millions of people who rely on the critical services provided by those centers, including comprehensive family planning and screening for diseases such as HIV and cancer.

In light of this dangerous impact and the many concerns raised by health care providers, patients, and other stakeholders throughout the development of this rule, we believe the rule should be rescinded. 

For decades, Title X-funded clinics have provided high quality health care to patients. The historically bipartisan program is intended to offer a full range of confidential and unbiased family planning services. Title X-funded clinics not only provide access to contraception, allowing women to choose whether and when to start a family, but also offer cancer and HIV screenings, STI screenings and treatment, and related preventive services. Four million patients who rely on Title X-funded programs now face limited options, as clinics and providers recognize the new regulation will force them to choose between receiving federal funds and upholding the confidential relationship between patient and health care provider. That is why health care providers, including the American Medical Association, Planned Parenthood, and the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, and nearly half of all States have filed lawsuits against HHS to challenge this rule. 

In fact, health care providers have indicated the ideology-based restrictions put them in the untenable position of deciding between offering substandard care and withdrawing from the program, potentially compromising health care access for the poor and low-income patients who rely on them. Six in ten of the women who obtain publicly funded contraceptive care at a safety-net health center, receive that care through a Title X-funded center.  HHS should be seeking to increase access to contraceptive care, not advancing policies that sow confusion and make it harder for women to access the health care they need. 

We urge you to reconsider this harmful rule and instead work with health care providers to maintain policies that will help ensure that women have access to the family planning services, cancer screenings, and STI screenings and treatment that they rely on Title X-funded clinics to provide. Please contact Laurel Sakai with Senator Murray’s HELP Committee staff with any questions at (202) 224-7675.  

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) voted in the Senate Finance Committee to approve bipartisan legislation to lower the cost of prescription drugs, sending the legislation to the full Senate for consideration. One recent report on the cost of prescription drugs in Virginia found that the annual cost of prescription drug treatment increased by 57.8 percent between 2012 and 2017, dramatically outpacing the 8.5 percent growth in Virginians’ incomes over the same period. The Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019 (PDPRA), which was approved by a bipartisan Committee vote of 19-9, will help address the rising cost of prescription drugs by taking on industry price hikes and protecting seniors with the highest out-of-pocket costs.

The Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019 takes key steps to lower prescription drug costs by overhauling the Medicare Part D program and creating a $3,100 yearly out-of-pocket cap to protect seniors with high drug costs. In addition, the legislation creates a price hike penalty for pharmaceutical companies if they raise the cost of a prescription drug faster than the rate of inflation. The bill also includes a provision similar to Sen. Warner’s bipartisan legislation that would allow state Medicaid programs grappling with rising drug costs to explore value-based pricing arrangements that peg the price of a drug to its effectiveness.

According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019 (PDPRA) will save seniors $27 billion in out-of-pocket costs and will generate more than $100 billion in taxpayer savings over the next 10 years.

In Congress, Sen. Warner has long pushed for policy changes to help lower prescription drug costs for Virginia seniors and families. In January, Sen. Warner re-introduced legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices—a move that would cut costs for nearly 43 million seniors enrolled in Medicare Part D.

Following today’s Committee vote, Sen. Warner released the below video statement:

 

“Hi, I’m Senator Mark Warner and I want to talk about out-of-control prices on prescription drugs.

“I think every family in Virginia has seen increasing costs on prescription drugs. Matter of fact, the overall cost of drugs in our country have doubled since 2002. I hear on a regular basis from Virginians who say they have to choose between paying for their drugs or paying for food or rent. In a country like ours, that’s just unacceptable.

“I also know how many families have to deal with, particularly, family members who’ve got pre-existing conditions. My three daughters – I’ve got one daughter with juvenile diabetes and another daughter with asthma – and I’ve seen the cost of their drugs go up exponentially. One of the worst cases has been the enormously increasing costs on insulin – a drug that’s been around, literally, for close to one hundred years, yet we’ve seen its prices almost quadruple.

“Now, I’m pretty lucky because I’ve got insurance that takes care of that. But too many families across Virginia and across our country – they don’t have full coverage in insurance, or even within Medicare, many of our seniors are confronted with something called the donut hole where they have to pay too much in out-of-pocket costs.

“Now, in a country like ours, that shouldn’t be the case. So I’m actually proud to report that as a member of the Senate Finance Committee, today we passed legislation that will start to put a cap on drug prices.  We’ve put plans in place to make sure that drug prices can’t rise faster than inflation. Matter of fact, the bill that we passed out today ends up saving seniors over $27 billion dollars.

“Now, this legislation doesn’t go as far as I’d like. I actually believe that in America we ought to be able to negotiate for drug prices the same way that other governments do around the world and I’m going to continue to work towards that, but this first step of legislation that we’ve taken today will end up creating savings and put downward pressure on the increasing price of drugs. Now, there’s more work we need to do. We need to get this bill out of the Senate Finance Committee – which we did today – get it to the floor of the Senate, get it passed, and get it to the President’s desk.

“There’s no issue that more Virginians and more Americans face on a daily basis than increasing drug prices and we’ve got to make sure that we continue bipartisan efforts to both bring these costs down and to make sure that as new drugs come to the market, they don’t come to the market with extraordinarily high prices.

“I’ll do all I can to continue this fight but today we took an important first step forward.

“Thanks so much.”

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today applauded the passage of a bill to continue providing financial support to those who suffered physical harm or families of those who were killed as a result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks or ensuing debris removal efforts. With the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) set to expire in 2020, the bipartisan Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act will secure funding for the VCF through Fiscal Year 2090 and ensure that all first responders and victims suffering from certified 9/11 illnesses can continue to count on this crucial program.

“Virginians will never forget 9/11 or the brave individuals who put their lives on the line in service of their fellow Americans. Unfortunately, many first responders and survivors today are reminded of that fateful day by the health issues they now face,” said the Senators. “While we can never repay the sacrifices of our first responders or their families, we can at least ensure that they receive the financial support they deserve. We applaud the passage of this important bill and urge the President to sign it into law as soon as possible.”

During the September 11th terrorist attacks, thousands of first responders and survivors were exposed to toxic materials, including burning chemicals, pulverized drywall and powdered cement. As a result of this exposure, many victims and first responders have become injured, fallen ill or lost their lives. The VCF provides compensation for those affected and has awarded more than $5 billion in benefits, with approximately 21,000 claims pending. From the Pentagon, 152 responders and 69 non-responders filed claims. Of those, the fund approved 36 claims by responders and thus far paid 32. It has also approved 16 claims from non-responders and paid all 16. In addition to reauthorizing funding, this legislation will also modify the VCF by allowing claims to be filed until October 2089 and adjusting the annual limit on economic loss compensation to account for inflation.

The bipartisan bill, introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), passed through the House earlier this month by a 402-12 vote. It passed through the senate by a vote of 97-2.

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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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