Press Releases

WASHINGTON, D.C – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $46,328,480 in federal funding to support affordable housing development across Virginia. The funding, which will go to 26 municipalities across the Commonwealth, has been awarded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Public Housing Capital Fund. 

“Access to safe and affordable housing is crucial to a family’s health and stability,” said the Senators. “We’re pleased that these federal dollars will help support housing authorities as they continue to provide necessary assistance to Virginians amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Capital Fund provides federal dollars to Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) for the development, financing, and modernization of public housing developments and management improvements.

The Virginia housing authorities that received funding are listed below:

Recipient

Amount

Portsmouth Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,729,133.00

Bristol Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$912,801.00

Newport News Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$3,672,566.00

Alexandria Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,938,851.00

Hopewell Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$944,954.00

Norfolk Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$8,426,268.00

Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$12,050,634.00

Danville Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,265,928.00

Roanoke Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$3,836,496.00

Chesapeake Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,327,337.00

Lynchburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$973,030.00

Norton Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$547,006.00

Charlottesville Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,025,764.00

Hampton Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,675,827.00

Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority

$179,216.00

Petersburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$989,647.00

Wytheville Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$583,518.00

Waynesboro Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$483,003.00

Wise County Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$486,727.00

Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority

$1,229,244.00

Williamsburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$299,180.00

Cumberland Plateau Regional Housing Authority

$651,261.00

Marion Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$637,685.00

Scott County Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$232,420.00

Abingdon Redevelopment and Housing Authority

$75,075.00

Lee County Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$154,909.00

Total:

$46,328,480.00

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today announced $179,010,000 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to support COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Virginia.

“As our nation mourns 500,000 lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to distribute the vaccine is more urgent than ever,” said the Senators. “We are glad to announce that this funding will provide increased support to distribute vaccines equitably throughout the Commonwealth, and we remain committed to ensuring that every Virginian has access to the vaccine as quickly as possible.”

This funding, awarded through FEMA’s Public Assistance Program, will be overseen and distributed by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM). It can be used to support efforts to store, transport, secure, handle, announce, and administer the COVID-19 vaccine throughout the Commonwealth.   

The most recent COVID-19 package negotiated by Sen. Warner and supported by both senators included $19 billion for vaccines and therapeutics and $8.75 billion for states for vaccine distribution.   

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) sent a letter urging the Biden administration to take the necessary steps to ensure that residents in rural communities have access to the COVID-19 vaccine. The letter follows reporting that there are no pharmacies in Southwest Virginia participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination, a program that aims to expedite COVID-19 vaccine distribution by shipping vaccine doses directly to retail pharmacy locations.

“We have heard from a number of providers, community leaders, and other stakeholders expressing their concerns about a lack of adequate vaccine access in rural areas of Virginia. We understand that current vaccine doses are limited in every community and do believe that you are working in good faith to best distribute and administer a limited number of vaccine supplies. However, we are particularly concerned with recent reports that there are zero Southwest Virginia pharmacies participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program,” wrote the Senators to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Acting Secretary Norris Cochran and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky.

While the CDC lists CVS Pharmacy as the only retail partner in the program for Virginia, there are no CVS pharmacies in Southwest Virginia that are currently participating in the program. In their letter, the Senators applauded the program to help get more Americans vaccinated to better combat the COVID-19 health crisis, while underscoring the need for the program to include providers in Southwest Virginia.

“As you know, Americans in rural and underserved communities are more likely to be older or otherwise at-risk for developing severe infection from COVID-19. This reality makes it all the more important to appropriately expedite available vaccine doses to these communities. We appreciate that by launching the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, HHS and CDC have taken deliberate steps to implement a national vaccination strategy, but we must make sure this national strategy appropriately includes rural communities,” they continued. “We urge you to work with stakeholders in Virginia to expand the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program to include providers in Southwest Virginia. Additionally, we ask that you further examine the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program and your national vaccination strategy to ensure that it includes a plan for equitable vaccine distribution and administration in rural communities.”

A copy of the letter is found here and below.

 

Dear Acting Secretary Cochran and Director Walensky:

Thank you for your work thus far to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia and nationally. As the Biden administration continues to ramp up efforts to get more Americans vaccinated, we are writing to request that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) work closely with states and local governments to ensure the equitable distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccine doses in rural and medically underserved communities. Specifically, we ask that you take the necessary steps of ensuring the newly launched Federal Retail Pharmacy Program has a sufficient number of participating pharmacy partners in rural Southwest Virginia communities.

We have heard from a number of providers, community leaders, and other stakeholders expressing their concerns about a lack of adequate vaccine access in rural areas of Virginia. We understand that current vaccine doses are limited in every community and do believe that you are working in good faith to best distribute and administer a limited number of vaccine supplies. However, we are particularly concerned with recent reports that there are zero Southwest Virginia pharmacies participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.

As you know, Americans in rural and underserved communities are more likely to be older or otherwise at-risk for developing severe infection from COVID-19. This reality makes it all the more important to appropriately expedite available vaccine doses to these communities. We appreciate that by launching the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, HHS and CDC have taken deliberate steps to implement a national vaccination strategy, but we must make sure this national strategy appropriately includes rural communities.

We urge you to work with stakeholders in Virginia to expand the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program to include providers in Southwest Virginia. Additionally, we ask that you further examine the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program and your national vaccination strategy to ensure that it includes a plan for equitable vaccine distribution and administration in rural communities.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this request, and we look forward to hearing back from you. Please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any questions or need additional information from us or our staff.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $4,000,000 in federal funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority to help expand access to and improve the quality of mental health and substance abuse programs.

“Over the course of the pandemic, we have seen an increased demand for mental health and substance abuse services,” said the Senators. “We are glad to announce that this funding will provide increased support to expand access to mental health and substance abuse services and treatment in Richmond.” 

During the pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau has reported that more than a third of Americans were suffering from symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The most recent COVID-19 package negotiated by Sen. Warner and supported by both senators included $4.5 billion in mental health and substance abuse services. It also included additional funding for suicide and childhood trauma programs. 

The funding was awarded through the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs) Expansion grant program, which seeks to increase access to and improve the quality of community mental and substance use disorder treatment services through the expansion of CCBHCs.

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) were joined by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Angus King (D-ME), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), and Chris Coons (D-DE) in introducing legislation to incentivize Medicaid expansion nationwide, bring needed federal dollars to states, and promote health care access for low-income Americans amid the current health and economic crisis.

The States Achieve Medicaid Expansion (SAME) Act of 2021 would allow states that expanded Medicaid after 2014, or who expand Medicaid in the years ahead, to receive the same full federal matching funds as states that expanded Medicaid earlier under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. 

“The COVID-19 crisis has destroyed jobs all across America, costing millions of people their employer-provided health benefits at a time when health insurance could make or break a family financially,” said Sen. Warner, a former Virginia governor. “Not only will this legislation encourage Medicaid expansion, which has been shown to improve health outcomes, it will also bring crucial federal dollars back to Virginia. With state and local governments drowning in red ink as they work to combat this virus, I can’t think of a better time to ensure that states like Virginia, which expanded Medicaid after 2014, get their fair share of federal funding.”

“Health care is a human right, and for too long, too many Georgians have been denied access to affordable health care through Medicaid,” Sen. Reverend Warnock said. “I’ve long believed that expanding Medicaid in Georgia is an important step toward making affordable health care for all a reality; in 2017 I was even arrested at the U.S. Capitol for advocating for Medicaid expansion. Now, as a voice for Georgia in the U.S. Senate, I’m proud to join Sen. Warner in introducing the SAME Act to encourage states like Georgia to expand critical Medicaid coverage to those who need it most, and help ensure during this pandemic and beyond that families are able to get the health care they need to not just survive, but thrive.”

The SAME Act would ensure that the fourteen 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 include Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Virginia, where Medicaid expansion went into effect on January 1, 2019, allowing more than 400,000 Virginians to access low-cost or no-cost healthcare coverage under Medicaid.

The Affordable Care Act provides financial support from the federal government to states that have expanded their existing Medicaid programs to provide health care 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. In passing the Affordable Care Act, Congress intended for all states to expand Medicaid in 2014. However, the Supreme Court’s holding in National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) v. Sebelius made expansion optional for states. As a result, states choosing to expand coverage after 2014 do not receive the same federal matching rates as those that expanded immediately.

The SAME Act would address this discrepancy by ensuring 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, a problem that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. In Virginia, three rural hospitals – in Norton, Patrick County and Lee County – have closed since 2013. 

Currently, 39 states and the District of Columbia have adopted Medicaid expansion, including Oklahoma and Missouri which passed ballot initiatives to expand Medicaid in 2021. In the twelve states that have not yet expanded their programs as envisioned under the Affordable Care Act, 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, additional federal revenue, increased Gross State Product, increased state and local revenues and reduced uncompensated care and hospital costs. 

“The SAME Act would give states a powerful incentive to broaden access to their Medicaid programs by providing full federal support for the first three years. This incentive was previously available when states could begin their expansion efforts in 2014, resulting in millions of people with cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions gaining access to quality health coverage. We urge lawmakers to support this important legislation to help ensure their constituents can get the care they need,” said Emily Holubowich, Vice President of Federal Advocacy for the American Heart Association. 

“During this continued COVID-19 pandemic ensuring Virginian’s health needs are covered is more important than ever. Senator Warner’s legislation strengthens Virginia’s expanded Medicaid program, which has extended quality health care coverage to over 500,000 individuals. We strongly support this legislation and the Senator’s efforts to expand quality health care coverage to more Virginians,” said Jill Hanken, Health Attorney for the Virginia Poverty Law Center.

“Good health is essential to thriving communities, and the expansion of Virginia’s Medicaid program in 2018 has led to over 500,000 people gaining access to quality health coverage — many for the first time. Senator Warner’s legislation will strengthen the Commonwealth’s Medicaid program by ensuring Virginia receives its fair share of federal matching payments. It will also improve access to health coverage nationally by encouraging additional states to expand their Medicaid programs. We thank Senator Warner for introducing this important legislation,” said Freddy Mejia, Health Policy Analyst for the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis.

This legislation has the support of numerous health organizations, including 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, America’s Essential Hospitals, American Association of Medical Colleges, Center for Medicare Advocacy Inc., Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Children's Defense Fund, The Commonwealth Institute, Families USA, Justice in Aging, Mental Health America, March of Dimes, 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, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Virginia Poverty Law Center, and Young Invincibles. 

Text of this legislation is available here. A summary is available here.  

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today announced $1,022,77 in federal funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Loudoun County. Specifically, the funding will be used to support efforts to store, handle, transport, distribute and administer the vaccine against COVID-19.

“We are glad to announce that these federal dollars will go towards getting vaccines out to more folks in Loudoun County,” said the Senators. “We remain committed to tackling this crisis and doing everything in our power to help boost vaccination rates across the Commonwealth.”

The most recent COVID-19 relief package negotiated by Sen. Warner and supported by both senators included more than $19 billion for vaccines and therapeutics and an additional $8.75 billion to support vaccine distribution at the local and state level.

Under Governor Northam’s Major Disaster Declaration to help Virginia respond to COVID-19, localities can apply for funding to support vaccine distribution from FEMA. Loudoun County is the second of the Commonwealth’s localities to apply for – and receive – the funding, following a funding announcement for Arlington County last week. 

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Washington, DC – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), as well as Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA), in introducing the bipartisan, bicameral COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act which would require the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to issue an emergency temporary standard requiring mine operators to establish a plan to tackle occupational COVID-19 exposure and provide miners with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE). Additional information on the COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act can be found here.

“COVID-19 is a very real threat for Virginia’s coal miners, who are often unable to practice social distancing as they work in confined spaces for extended periods of time,” said Senator Warner. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation to ensure that miners in Southwest Virginia and throughout the country have the resources they need to properly protect themselves and limit their exposure to this dangerous and increasingly contagious virus.”

“Our miners risk their lives every day to power our nation and during the COVID-19 pandemic, that risk is even greater for our brave miners,” said Senator Manchin. “The bipartisan, bicameral COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act will instruct DOL to create safeguards and provide PPE to ensure our miners are protected from exposure to COVID-19 in the mines. I will continue to work with my bipartisan colleagues, DOL and the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) to pass this commonsense legislation to help our miners stay safe during the pandemic as they continue to provide Americans with the power we need every day.”

“For centuries, our miners have worked tirelessly to power America and keep the lights on. It is vital that we take the necessary steps to provide them safety and job security as we continue to battle COVID-19,” said Senator Capito.


“Our nation’s miners have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to supply our energy needs at greater risk to themselves,” Senator Durbin said. “I am proud to help introduce the bipartisan COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act with my colleagues. This bill will ensure that our hard working miners are provided with proper PPE and that safeguards are put into place to decrease the risk of workplace exposure to this deadly virus.”

“Coal miners have worked tirelessly in dangerous conditions to power our communities, and now we must help ensure they can stay safe amidst the risks of COVID-19,” said Senator Kaine. “We must pass this bipartisan legislation to provide our nation’s miners with the necessary tools to limit their exposure to COVID-19.”

“Throughout a pandemic that has cost more than 440,000 Americans their lives, our Nation’s miners have continued to bravely go to work every day,” said Senator Casey. “We need to put in place enforceable workplace safety standards to protect miners from COVID-19 exposure on the job and to keep them, their families and their communities safe.”

“Ohio miners have put their health at risk for years to power our country,” said Senator Brown. “And now they’re facing more danger, as working conditions put them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. MSHA needs to issue an enforceable safety standard to protect these miners from infectious disease, and we need to ensure these workers have the personal protective equipment they need to prevent exposure.”

“In Northeastern Pennsylvania, where mine workers’ organizing is a time-honored tradition, we know how important it is to ensure they are protected. As they continue to work in close quarters and tough conditions, miners remain at high risk for COVID-19 infection. This is a bill supported by both Democrats and Republicans that would implement responsible safety guidance and deliver personal protective equipment so that miners can continue to work, stay healthy and provide for their families during this health crisis,” said Representative Cartwright.  

 

The COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act

The COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act would direct the Secretary of Labor to issue an emergency temporary standard that requires mine operators to:

  • Develop and implement a comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plan to protect miners from COVID-19 exposure at the mines;
  • Provide personal protective equipment to miners;
  • Incorporate guidelines from the CDC, NIOSH, and relevant scientific research;
  • In coordination with CDC and NIOSH, track, analyze, and investigate mine-related COVID-19 infections data in order make recommendations and guidance to protect miners from the virus.

Bill text can be found here.

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WASHINGTON - As tech companies and public health agencies deploy new tools to fight the spread of COVID-19 – including contact tracing apps, digital monitoring, home tests, and vaccine appointment booking – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and U.S. Representatives Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Suzan DelBene (D-WA) introduced the Public Health Emergency Privacy Act to set strong and enforceable privacy and data security rights for health information.

After decades of data misuse, breaches, and privacy intrusions, Americans are reluctant to trust tech firms to protect their sensitive health information – according to a recent poll, more than half of Americans would not use a contact tracing app and similar tools from Google and Apple over privacy concerns. The bicameral Public Health Emergency Privacy Act would protect Americans who use this kind of technology during the pandemic and safeguard civil liberties. Strengthened public trust will empower health authorities and medical experts to leverage new health data and apps to fight COVID-19. 

“Technologies like contact tracing, home testing, and online appointment booking are absolutely essential to stop the spread of this disease, but Americans are rightly skeptical that their sensitive health data will be kept safe and secure,” Blumenthal said. “Legal safeguards protecting consumer privacy failed to keep pace with technology, and that lapse is costing us in the fight against COVID-19. This measure sets strict and straightforward privacy protections and promises: Your information will be used to stop the spread of this disease, and no more. The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act’s commitment to civil liberties is an investment in our public health.”

“Our health privacy laws have not kept pace with what Americans have come to expect for their sensitive health data,” Warner said. “Strong privacy protections for COVID health data will only be more vital as we move forward with vaccination efforts and companies begin experimenting with things like ‘immunity passports’ to gate access to facilities and services. Absent a clear commitment from policymakers to improving our health privacy laws, as this important legislation seeks to accomplish, I fear that creeping privacy violations and discriminatory uses of health data could become the new status quo in health care and public health.” 

“I’m exceedingly proud of the American innovators, many of whom are in my congressional district, who have built technologies to combat the coronavirus. As these technologies are used, they must be coupled with policies to protect the civil liberties that define who we are as a nation,” said Eshoo. “The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act is a critical bill that will prohibit privacy invasions by preventing misuse of pandemic-related data for unrelated purposes like marketing, prohibiting the data from being used in discriminatory ways, and requiring data security and integrity measures. The legislation will give the American people confidence to use technologies and systems that can aid our efforts to combat the pandemic.”

“As we continue to respond to the devastating suffering caused by COVID-19, our country’s first and foremost public health response must be testing, testing, testing, AND manual contact tracing. Digital contact tracing can and should complement these efforts, but it is just that – complimentary. However, if we do pursue digital contact tracing, consumers need clearly-defined privacy rights and strong enforcement to safeguard these rights. I am proud to re-introduce this bill with my friend and fellow Energy & Commerce Subcommittee Chairwoman Eshoo and Congresswoman DelBene, along with Senators Blumenthal and Warner,” said Schakowsky. “It’s our shared belief that the Trump Administration missed an opportunity when it failed to advocate for swift passage of this legislation. Based on how poorly the Trump Administration’s contact tracing scheme went, we all know this legislation would go a long way towards establishing the trust American consumers need – and which Big Tech has squandered, time and again – for digital contact tracing to be a worthwhile auxiliary to the Biden Administration’s plan for widespread testing and manual contact tracing.” 

“Technology has become one of our greatest tools in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic but we need to build trust with the broader public if we are going to reach its full potential. Americans need to be certain their sensitive personal information will be protected when using tracing apps and other COVID-19 response technology and this pandemic-specific privacy legislation will help build that trust,” said DelBene. “Data privacy should not end with the pandemic. We need comprehensive privacy reform to protect Americans at all times, including state preemption to create a strong, uniform national standard. I hope that this crisis has shed light on the lack of adequate digital privacy policies in our country and look forward to working with these lawmakers and others to create the necessary standards moving forward.”

The bill is co-sponsored in the Senate by U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Angus King (I-ME), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL).

The bill is co-sponsored in the House of Representatives by Don Beyer (D-VA), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Peter Welch (D-VT), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Jesús ''Chuy'' García (D-IL), Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), and Peter DeFazio (D-OR). 

The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act would:

·       Ensure that data collected for public health is strictly limited for use in public health;

·       Explicitly prohibit the use of health data for discriminatory, unrelated, or intrusive purposes, including commercial advertising, e-commerce, or efforts to gate access to employment, finance, insurance, housing, or education opportunities;

·       Prevent the potential misuse of health data by government agencies with no role in public health;

·       Require meaningful data security and data integrity protections – including data minimization and accuracy – and mandate deletion by tech firms after the public health emergency;

·       Protect voting rights by prohibiting conditioning the right to vote based on a medical condition or use of contact tracing apps;

·       Require regular reports on the impact of digital collection tools on civil rights;

·       Give the public control over their participation in these efforts by mandating meaningful transparency and requiring opt-in consent; and

·       Provide for robust private and public enforcement, with rulemaking from an expert agency while recognizing the continuing role of states in legislation and enforcement.

The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act is endorsed by Access Now, Electronic Privacy and Information Center (EPIC), the Center for Digital Democracy, Color of Change, Common Sense Media, New America’s Open Technology Institute, and Public Knowledge.

“A public health crisis is not the time to give up on our privacy rights, and this bill would go a long way toward protecting those rights. COVID-19 response apps are already out there, and this bill will help ensure that the apps are distributed and used in a responsible manner that will limit the new and expansive surveillance systems companies are building. Allowing these apps to proceed unchecked would create serious privacy violations that will never be undone,”said Eric Null, U.S. Policy Manager at Access Now.

“The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act shows that privacy and public health are complementary goals. The bill requires companies to limit the collection of health data to only what is necessary for public health purposes, and crucially, holds companies accountable if they fail to do so,” said Caitriona Fitzgerald, Interim Associate Director and Policy Director with Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

“Public health measures to contain the deadly spread of COVID-19 must be effective and protect those most at risk. Where data are collected or used, they should not be misused to undermine privacy, fairness and equity, or place our civil rights in peril. The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act ensures that efforts to limit the spread of the virus truly protect all our interests,” said Katharina Kopp, Director of Policy for the Center for Digital Democracy.

“Color Of Change strongly supports the Public Health Emergency Privacy Act, as it would prevent corporate profiteering and government misuse of health data to help ensure Black people — who are disproportionately exposed to the dangers of surveillance — can operate online without fear. Profit-incentivized corporations should not be allowed to exploit loopholes to gather and sell sensitive health and location data without any regard to the safety of our communities. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, we need stringent and enforceable safeguards in place to protect private health information of Black people and other marginalized communities, who are most at risk of both COVID-19 and surveillance. We thank Senators Blumenthal and Warner for their leadership on this legislation, and we will continue to advocate for the highest standard of protection against the abuse of personal data,” said Color Of Change President Rashad Robinson.

“Common Sense calls on Congress to pass meaningful privacy safeguards for families. More than ever, the pandemic has highlighted how important it is that families can trust how their information is being collected, used, and shared. PHEPA is an important proposal to ensure technologies and data being used to combat COVID are used in privacy-protective ways, and it also can serve as a model for how Congress can comprehensively protect privacy in the near future,” said Ariel Fox Johnson, Senior Counsel for Global Policy with Common Sense Media. 

“OTI welcomes the re-introduction of this legislation that would establish strong safeguards to prevent personal data from being used for non-public health purposes and prevent the data from being used in a discriminatory manner. The ongoing privacy threats and urgency of the pandemic make these protections more important than ever,” said Christine Bannan, Policy Counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute.

“As contact tracing apps and other types of COVID-19 surveillance become commonplace in the United States, this legislation will protect the privacy of Americans regardless of the type of technology used or who created it. It is critical that Congress continue to work to prevent this type of corporate or government surveillance from becoming ubiquitous and compulsory,” said Sara Collins, Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge.

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WASHINGTON – With the Biden administration set to unveil details on a series of executive ordersto reverse his predecessor’s relentless efforts to sabotage the success of the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) will introduce the Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 to help counter the devastating effects the health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has had on the record high number of people lacking insurance across the country. Specifically, the Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 aims to protect health care coverage for Americans living with preexisting conditions while also expanding access to quality and affordable health care coverage for working families.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans have lost their employer-provided insurance. Amid one of the most unprecedented health and economic health crises our country has faced where an alarming number of Americans already lack health insurance, now is the time to deploy tools to meet the demands on our health care system. As the Biden administration readies its executive orders to expand health care coverage – including reopening the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act  – I’m also introducing legislation that would support the administration’s effort to get more families affordable health care coverage,” said Sen. Warner. 

The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 would lower costs for working families by:

·       Capping health care costs on the ACA exchanges: The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will ensure no individual or family pays more than 8.5 percent of their total household income for their health insurance. Currently, no family making more than 400 percent of the federal poverty line ($51,040 for an individual in 2020) is eligible for premium assistance on the ACA exchanges. This provision – which is supported in President Biden’s American Rescue Plan – expands premium assistance to individuals making more than 400 percent of the federal poverty line and places a cap on insurance costs for all individuals and families on the ACA exchanges. 

·       Establishing a low-cost public health care option: The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will also require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to create a low-cost, public health care option for individuals who are eligible to enroll for health care coverage via the ACA exchanges. Establishing a public health care option will increase competition and ensure an added lower cost health care option for more American families.

·       Authorizing the federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices: Under existing federal law, the government is explicitly banned from negotiating with pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices. The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will allow the federal government to leverage its purchasing power to negotiate prices and reduce drug costs for more than 37 million seniors on Medicare.

·       Allowing insurers to offer health care coverage across state boundaries:The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will allow insurers to offer health care coverage across state boundaries, increasing choice and competition among plans and driving down costs while maintaining quality, value and strong consumer protections.

·       Supporting state-run reinsurance programs: The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will create a new “State Health Insurance Affordability and Innovation Fund” to support state run reinsurance programs and additional state efforts to reduce premium costs and expand health care coverage. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has previously estimated such programs could reduce health care premiums by 8 percent within one year.

The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will increase access to affordable health care coverage by:

·       Incentivizing states to expand Medicaid: If all states were to expand their Medicaid programs, the number of uninsured Americans would decrease by more than 2 million. The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will provide additional incentive to states to expand their Medicaid program by temporarily increasing federal matching funds to states that expand their programs and reducing existing administrative payments to states that do not expand their programs. It would also provide retroactive payments to states like Virginia that were late to expand Medicaid and have not received their fair share of federal matching payments. 

·       Expanding Medicaid eligibility for new moms: The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will allow states to provide new mothers up to 12 months of postpartum Medicaid eligibility. This provision would significantly improve maternal health outcomes by ensuring mothers have access to vital health care services during the immediate months after giving birth.

·       Simplifying enrollment: There are over 7 million Americans currently eligible for cost-free Medicaid coverage, but who are not enrolled due a variety of factors including unnecessary paperwork and a confusing enrollment process. The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will simplify Medicaid and CHIP enrollment by permanently authorizing the successful Medicaid Express Lane Eligibility program and expanding it to include adults. The Department of Health and Human Services will also be required to conduct a study and develop recommendations to allow states to further implement Medicaid and CHIP auto-enrollment for individuals eligible for cost-free coverage. 

·       Increasing Medicaid funding for states with high levels of unemployment: The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will implement a counter-cyclical Medicaid matching payment from the federal government to ensure that states with high levels of unemployment receive a higher federal matching payment to appropriately account for an increase in Medicaid enrollment. This will ensure states can maintain affordable health care coverage during economic downturns and temporary periods of high unemployment.

·       Funding rural health care providers: Under current law, rural providers are unfairly compensated at a much lower rate than urban providers, making it more difficult for Virginia providers to keep their doors open in underserved communities. The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will create a rural floor for the Area Wage Index formula the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid use to reimburse rural providers. Fixing the Area Wage Index will boost access to affordable health care coverage in Virginia’s rural and medically underserved communities.

·       Reducing burdens on small businesses: The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will modernize ACA employer reporting requirements to ensure that businesses can provide comprehensive health care benefits to their employees without additional administrative costs or unnecessary paperwork.

“As Americans continue to face a once in a century public health crisis, Senator Warner is working to make health care more accessible and affordable for the American people. Senator Warner’s bill would take bold steps to reduce costs, expand coverage, and strengthen protections for people with pre-existing conditions at a time when access to affordable health care has never been more critical. Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans should work with Senate leadership to prioritize the health and well-being of Americans by building on the success of the Affordable Care and abandoning their health care sabotage agenda,” said Brad Woodhouse, Executive Director of Protect Our Care.

“The pandemic has exacerbated the deep, structural problems in our health care system: namely, cost is far too big of a burden and not enough people have adequate protection. We must make real reforms to health care, and Third Way applauds Senator Mark Warner for the leadership he has shown in the Health Care Improvement Act of 2020,” said Gabe Horwitz, Senior Vice President for the Economic Program at Third Way. “Among its very important provisions, this legislation would expand coverage by making enrollment in Medicaid automatic whenever a low-income uninsured patient accesses health care. As Third Way has long called for, automatic enrollment makes health care easier for people to navigate and is an important step to achieve universal coverage. The Warner legislation also builds on the Affordable Care Act and makes coverage affordable for millions of middle-class families who currently fall through gaps in the program. And it provides financial relief to states during economic downturns like the one we’re experiencing now by increasing the federal share of Medicaid payments to the states. Americans need far more security and stability in their health care, and we are excited about the vision shown in Senator Warner’s bill.”

“The Virginia Community Healthcare Association represents more than 150 health center sites, serving over 350,000 individuals across the Commonwealth with the goal of ensuring access to primary care for all Virginians. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the need for quality health care coverage more critical than ever. Senator Warner’s Health Care Improvement Act will advance our shared goal of reducing health care costs and expanding quality health care coverage to more Virginians. We thank him for introducing this legislation and look forward to working with him on this important effort,” said Rick Shinn, Director of Government Affairs for the Virginia Community Healthcare Association.

“Rising health care costs have increasingly become a burden for too many Virginians – making it more difficult to access quality and affordable health care coverage. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of ensuring every American has access to quality health care coverage, and also highlighted significant gaps in access to health care coverage for communities of color and people with low-incomes. Senator Warner’s legislation will improve access to quality health care by closing existing coverage gaps and reducing premiums costs for people who already have health care coverage. We look forward to working with Senator Warner to advance these important priorities,” said Freddy Mejia, Health Policy Analyst, The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis.

“The Virginia Poverty Law Center applauds Senator Warner’s introduction of comprehensive legislation on health care. The improvements in this bill address a wide range of critical issues that will reduce costs and expand access to care for consumers in Virginia and across the country. Specifically, we strongly support the Senator’s proposals that improve ACA health plan affordability, enhance premium assistance, provide additional incentives for states to expand their Medicaid programs, ensure continuity of health care for new mothers and reduce Medicare drug prices. We encourage Congress to move quickly on this vital legislation that will help so many consumers during and after the COVID pandemic,” said Jill Hanken, Health Attorney, the Virginia Poverty Law Center.

“We at the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) believe that access to quality health care is a right, not a privilege, and that access to comprehensive health services must be recognized and protected as a basic human right. Especially in light of this ongoing pandemic, we continue our commitment to ensuring health care for all. To that end, we support this effort to expand health care coverage in the U.S. AMSA especially supports Medicaid eligibility expansion, the simplification of enrollment procedures for Medicaid and SCHIP programs, and the expansion of federal financing. Moreover, we are excited to see efforts that work to reduce prescription drug prices and fight against surprise medical billing. AMSA applauds Senator Warner and the Health Care Improvement Act,” said Dr. Ali Bokhari, President of American Medical Student Association 

“The Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) is aware of how access challenges and high costs in our health care system disproportionally affect people with disabilities. We appreciate Senator Warner’s commitment to work closely with the disability community as he leads efforts to ensure Americans have access to the care and coverage they need.  AUCD supports the Health Care Improvement Act and its commitment to address the pressing needs of reducing health care costs and protecting the rights of people with disabilities,” said Rylin Rodgers, Policy Director of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities. 

This legislation also boasts the support of The Arc of Northern Virginia, The Autism Society of Northern Virginia, Healthcare for All Virginians Coalition, First Focus Campaign for Children, and the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Bill text is available here. A bill summary is available here. A section-by-section explainer on the bill is available here.

With President Biden’s expected executive order announcement later today and the introduction of his American Rescue Plan, the Biden administration is set to act on additional priorities Sen. Warner has long called for to improve our nation’s health care system such as re-opening theAffordable Care Act exchanges so that more uninsured individuals can enroll in health care coverage. During the COVID-19 health crisis, Sen. Warner called on the Trump Administration and Congress to make this important change to address the health care coverage crisis we now face. 

In line with the forthcoming announcement by the Biden administration, Sen. Warner’s Health Care Improvement Act provides $100,000,000 in funding to support the administration’s effort to fully fund programs to help more Americans enroll in affordable health care coverage. Additionally, President Biden plans to roll back the Trump administration’s actions to sabotage the Affordable Care Act which has undermined our preparedness for and ability to respond to COVID-19 and protect health care coverage for millions of Americans. In 2019, Sen. Warner led the entire Senate Democratic Caucus in a legislative maneuver to protect health coverage  for Americans with preexisting conditions from the Trump Administration’s attempts to undermine those safeguards.

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WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner joined Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the only woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Representatives Barbara Lee (CA-13), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09) and Ami Bera, M.D. (CA-07), in a bipartisan, bicameral reintroduction of the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act in both the Senate and House of Representatives. The legislation would permanently repeal the harmful Global Gag Rule. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also joined Shaheen to lead the introduction of the legislation in the Senate, which has 46 total cosponsors. The House companion legislation has 173 cosponsors.  

The Global Gag Rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, is an executive order that bans federal funds for foreign non-governmental organizations that use non-U.S. funds to provide abortion services or provide information about abortion as part of comprehensive family planning services. This forces clinics to choose between providing limited reproductive health services while accepting U.S. foreign aid or providing inclusive family planning and reproductive health care with a limited budget. The ill-conceived policy was rescinded by the Obama administration, only to be reinstated and expanded under the Trump administration. President Trump expanded the policy numerous times during his term in office to unprecedented levels, all of which Senator Shaheen vehemently opposed. Yesterday, President Biden rescinded the policy. 

“The Global Gag Rule compromised women’s health and well-being in some of our most vulnerable communities around the world. The impact of the last administration’s actions to implement and significantly expand this policy will take years to repair,” said Senator Shaheen. “I’m very pleased by President Biden’s decision to rescind this policy and I’m eager to work with his administration to build on that effort in Congress, starting with legislation I’ve introduced – the Global HER Act. The Global HER Act is a bipartisan bill to permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule, ensuring that women’s access to important health services are not dependent on the person in the White House. And a permanent repeal is needed now more than ever. The Trump administration’s unprecedented and exponential expansion of the Global Gag Rule cannot be repeated. Frontline organizations need certainty on funding and services so they can best serve their patients. The life and health of a mother on the other side of the world shouldn’t be at the whim of a President’s partisan politics. It’s time to end the Global Gag Rule.”  

“The Global Gag rule leaves behind a chilling effect every time the United States changes administrations, undercutting the longstanding goals of the policy,” said Congresswoman Lee. “This harmful policy interferes with doctor-patient relationships by restricting crucial information and health services for vulnerable communities around the world. We can no longer undermine the sustainability of global health programs and our pace of progress, so I’m proud to be co-leading this effort with my colleagues. I’m looking forward to advancing the Global HER Act in the House and Senate with an administration that understands the importance of this issue." 

“I want to applaud President Biden for taking the important step of issuing an Executive Order to repeal the Global Gag rule, saving lives and protecting the health of women around the world,” said Congresswoman Schakowsky. “Access to comprehensive reproductive health services and information will not only reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, but also prevent injuries and death that result from unsafe abortions. Once again, the United States, the single largest funder of global health, is stepping up to prevent negative maternal health outcomes. I am proud to co-lead the Global HER Act to permanently repeal this harmful policy and ensure that future Administrations don’t bring it back.”

“I’m grateful President Biden rescinded the Global Gag Rule, which jeopardizes life-saving global health programs and makes it even harder for women and families in vulnerable populations to access critical reproductive health care. This policy also hinders our ability to fight against epidemics like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. The Trump Administration shamefully expanded this policy, leading to disastrous results for women and families across the world at a time when the global community was already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Congressman Bera. “Congress must act to ensure no future Administration can implement this harmful policy. I’m proud to join my colleagues in the House and Senate in reintroducing the Global HER Act to permanently end the Global Gag Rule and its attack on reproductive rights.” 

“The Global HER Act would allow U.S. global health assistance funding for foreign non-governmental organizations, using their own funds, to provide the full scope of family planning services to women in developing countries,” said Senator Collins. “The global gag rule forces health care organizations to make a Hobson’s choice:  either give up desperately needed funds for family planning and a broad array of other important health care services, or renege on their responsibility to provide patients with full and accurate medical information.  I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure that U.S. investments in global health are effective and are administered efficiently.”

“In 2017, President Trump issued a presidential memorandum that restored the Mexico City policy, also known as the global gag rule. The expansion of this policy that occurred over the last four years had a detrimental impact on clinical providers, community health workers and public health partners around the world providing women and girls with essential services,” said Senator Murkowski.  “I’m proud to help reintroduce bipartisan, bicameral legislation which would permanently repeal that rule. By doing so, we remove eligibility restrictions that could unintentionally create barriers to critical, often life-saving services and help ensure women around the world have access to more comprehensive, quality healthcare.” 

The Global HER Act would: 

  • Ensure that eligible foreign NGOs can continue to operate U.S.-supported health programs abroad, particularly those that provide legal health services to women -- including counseling, referral, and legal abortion services -- with their own, non-U.S. funds; 
  • Guarantee that foreign NGOs will not be forced to sacrifice their right to free speech in order to participate in U.S.-supported programs abroad; and
  • Help expand access to health programs for women around the world to improve health and development outcomes for entire families, communities and developing countries.  

A member of both the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, Senator Shaheen has been a fierce advocate for women and girls around the globe, including advocating on behalf of family planning and women’s global health, spearheading efforts to end gender-based violence, authoring legislation to address barriers that girls around the world face in accessing education and securing women leadership roles in conflict resolution and peace negotiations

In addition to Sen. Warner, the Global HER Act is cosponsored by Senators Collins (R-ME), Murkowski (R-AK), Menendez (D-NJ), Baldwin (D-WI), Bennet (D-CO), Blumenthal (D-CT), Booker (D-NJ), Brown (D-OH), Cantwell (D-WA), Cardin (D-MD), Carper (D-DE), Casey (D-PA), Coons (D-DE), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Duckworth (D-IL), Durbin (D-IL), Feinstein (D-CA), Gillibrand (D-NY), Hassan (D-NH), Hirono (D-HI), Kaine (D-VA), Kelly (D-AZ), King (I-ME), Klobuchar (D-MN), Leahy (D-VT), Markey (D-MA), Merkley (D-OR), Murphy (D-CT), Murray (D-WA), Ossoff (D-GA), Peters (D-MI), Reed (D-RI), Rosen (D-NV), Sanders (I-VT), Schatz (D-HI), Schumer (D-NY), Sinema (D-AZ), Smith (D-MN), Stabenow (D-MI), Tester (D-MT), Van Hollen (D-MD), Warnock (D-GA), Warren (D-MA), Whitehouse (D-RI) and Wyden (D-OR).

The Global HER Act is endorsed by 132 organizations representing global health, women’s reproductive rights, women’s equality, civil rights and other relevant advocacy constituencies. The full list is available here 

Text of the Global HER Act can be read here

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WASHINGTON, D.C – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $2,283,147.93 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide support for the distribution COVID-19 vaccines in Arlington County. These funds will go toward supplies to ensure proper storage of the vaccine, transportation support, staffing needs, PPE for staff, and the necessary equipment to ensure facilities are in line with CDC guidance.

“We’re glad to see these federal dollars go toward helping Arlington County effectively administer the COVID-19 vaccine,” said the Senators. “We will keep working to ensure the Commonwealth has the resources it needs to best respond to this pandemic.” 

Under Governor Northam’s Major Disaster Declaration to help Virginia respond to COVID-19, localities can apply for funding to support vaccine distribution from FEMA. Arlington County is the first of the Commonwealth’s localities to apply for – and receive – the funding.

The latest COVID relief package, supported by Senators Warner and Kaine, included over $19 billion for vaccines and therapeutics and an additional $8.75 billion to support vaccine distribution, particularly for states and localities, to slow the spread of the pandemic. 

In March 2020, Kaine joined his colleagues in a letter urging President Trump to immediately consider any disaster declaration requests so states can utilize FEMA’s Public Assistance program in their efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and protect public health. Public Assistance is funded through the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), to which Congress provided an additional $45 billion in the CARES Act.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) and 23 of their Senate colleagues in a letter to President-Elect Joe Biden, supporting his incoming administration’s plan to quickly utilize all available authorities under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to rapidly increase the production and stockpiling of medical, testing and protective equipment supplies.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Senate Democrats have been calling on the Trump Administration to fully utilize the DPA to ramp up nationwide production of testing supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE), and medical equipment. The Trump Administration failed to do this, which has created continued supply chain issues that are having dangerous impacts on the nation’s response to COVID-19, as well as the nation’s ability to scale up vaccine production and distribution. 

In their letter to the President-Elect, the Senators support the Biden Administration’s intended use of executive action to utilize all authorities under the DPA and deploy a more functional response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Senators write, “Given the continued supply chain issues that we have seen over the past year, we believe it is in the best interest of the American public to shore up our access to critical supplies immediately and in the long term through all available DPA authorities.”

They continue, “The DPA can help us reach our goal of vaccinating enough of the American public to achieve herd immunity by ramping up production of sterile needles, rubber stoppers, syringes and other vaccine supplies now … we need to use every tool available to make up the ground we have lost. The DPA could also be used to regulate vaccine distribution, ensure that companies do not charge for the vaccine in the future and enhance production of materials needed for vaccines to address future pandemics.”

The Senators note how American manufacturers and workers have stepped up to increase domestic manufacturing of PPE throughout the pandemic, but that the DPA must also be used to ensure these manufacturers, many of whom have acted in the interest of public health, have greater access to affordable, domestically-sourced raw materials.

The Senators conclude, “Make no mistake, a dependable and resilient domestic manufacturing capacity to respond to a global pandemic is a national security imperative. Given the opaque nature of the transition and the lack of transparency from the current administration, we understand that your team may not yet have full insight into the state of the medical supply pipeline and Strategic National Stockpile. We stand ready to partner with you to help overcome these substantial obstacles. Your use of executive action to utilize the extraordinary authorities under DPA will support a more functional response to the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that America is stronger now and more resilient when the next pandemic occurs.”

The letter was also signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Angus King (I-ME), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Gary Peters (D-MI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

The full letter is available here.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined their Senate colleagues in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar demanding the Trump Administration take immediate action to fix the significant failures of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution as coronavirus cases continue to climb. In the letter, the senators call out the Administration’s failure to develop and implement a comprehensive national vaccine plan despite having months to do so. 

“Despite months to plan, the Trump Administration has failed to meet these needs or deliver promised doses to jurisdictions, and as a result of this lack of planning, only 36 percent of distributed vaccines have been administered,” wrote the Senators. “Federal responsibility does not end with delivery of vaccines to states, as you have suggested. Vaccine administration must be a close partnership between the federal government and state, Tribal, and local governments, with the federal government stepping up to ensure that all needs are met. A vaccine allocated on a spreadsheet, or even a vaccine distributed and sitting on a shelf, is not enough to protect anyone.”

For months, Senate Democrats have been imploring the Trump Administration to work and communicate with state, local, Tribal, and territorial governments, vaccine and PPE manufacturers, public health experts, and health care providers to develop a plan for COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration. These groups have been pleading for clear guidance and financial resources.

In the letter, the Senators call for a plan that includes guidance and best practices on taking the vaccine from distribution to administration, provide all necessary resources to state, local, Tribal, and territorial governments and other jurisdictions, account for the significant challenges jurisdictions face in scaling up their workforces, and act to ensure vaccine distribution efforts also combat health inequities. The Administration must also launch a massive public facing campaign to promote vaccine confidence and help people understand where, when and how to get vaccinated. In the coming weeks, the senators emphasize that the Trump Administration must engage with states to proactively identify and address challenges to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are quickly and equitably distributed and administered across the country. 

In December, Warner & Kaine successfully pushed to pass COVID relief legislation, which allocated over $19 billion for vaccines and therapeutics, and an additional $8.75 billion to support vaccine distribution, particularly for states and localities, to slow the spread of the pandemic and take a step towards successful COVID-19 management. 

The letter was led by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Patty Murray (D-WA), and was also signed by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jon Tester (D-MT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Coons (D-DE), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tom Carper (D-DE), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

Full text of the letter here and below. 

  

Dear Secretary Azar:

We write to you with concerns about significant challenges in COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration across the country and to outline key actions the Trump Administration should have taken—and must now take—to address these challenges. With our health system and economy in crisis, and millions of lives at stake, we cannot afford for this vaccination campaign to continue to be hindered by the lack of planning, communication, and leadership we have seen so far. 

President Trump tweeted on January 3rd that “the vaccines are being delivered to the states by the Federal Government far faster than they can be administered!”  That should have been an indicator of a failed vaccine roll out, not a point of pride.  It is the federal government’s role to ensure states, Tribes, localities, and the public are receiving the resources and support they need, rather than requiring every jurisdiction to manage on their own without the benefit of the national resources and perspective that only the federal government can provide.

Since July, we have been calling on the Trump Administration to work with states, Tribes, and localities, vaccine and PPE manufacturers, public health experts, congregate care settings, and other health care providers to develop a comprehensive, national plan for vaccines. Since September, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Operation Warp Speed (OWS) first published their playbook and strategy for vaccine distribution, state, Tribal, and local health departments have said that they need clear communication, transparent decision-making, evidence-based guidance, and financial resources to effectively implement vaccine administration plans. Despite months to plan, the Trump Administration has failed to meet these needs or deliver promised doses to jurisdictions, and as a result of this lack of planning, only 36 percent of distributed vaccines have been administered. We hope the recently announced efforts to scale up vaccinations in pharmacies will help to turn this tide but it is clear much more is needed. States, Tribes, and localities, providers, and the public are being left without federal support or clear, complete information about what to expect in the future as nearly 300,000 Americans fall ill daily from this virus. 

In order to avoid these failures, the Trump Administration should have issued and implemented a comprehensive national vaccines plan, including detailed guidance and an infusion of resources to support states. Federal responsibility does not end with delivery of vaccines to states, as you have suggested. Vaccine administration must be a close partnership between the federal government and state, Tribal, and local governments, with the federal government stepping up to ensure that all needs are met. A vaccine allocated on a spreadsheet, or even a vaccine distributed and sitting on a shelf, is not enough to protect anyone. The metric that matters, and where we are clearly moving too slowly, is vaccines in arms. A comprehensive national plan should:

  • include robust guidance for states, Tribes, localities and health care providers including on personal protective equipment (PPE) usage, vaccine administration prioritization, and best practices for taking the vaccine from distribution to administration;
  • specify how the Federal government will support these entities with funding, supplies, information, and personnel—which thus far the Trump Administration has failed to do; and
  • account for the significant challenges jurisdictions face in scaling up their workforces while continuing other lifesaving public health work, which may include providing increased support for mass vaccination clinics and mobile testing units, as well as supplementing the vaccination workforce including vaccinators, logistical support, and more.  

In the absence of this long-overdue national plan, it is all the more important that the Trump Administration actively engage with state planning efforts in the coming days, identify challenges across distribution and administration, and proactively address problems that arise in partnership with jurisdictions. 

In order to support the efforts outlined in a comprehensive, national plan, the Trump Administration must also quickly provide robust vaccine distribution funding to States, Tribes, and localities. In advance of vaccine distribution efforts commencing, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had provided just $617 million in funding to states for vaccine efforts—this amount was woefully inadequate. In fact, the Trump Administration falsely stated as recently as November that States did not need funding for vaccine distribution.  Ultimately, Congress provided $8.75 billion for vaccine distribution efforts in the recently enacted COVID relief bill which will meaningfully help states execute their vaccine administration plans. The bill requires a portion of this funding to be sent to states within 21 days, and President Trump’s delay in signing this legislation should not further delay the distribution of these funds. We recognize that the CDC announced the availability of $3 billion for states for vaccination activities, but we cannot afford a repeat performance of this Administration’s decision to sit on billions of dollars in testing funds when states urgently needed them. The Trump Administration must ensure strong support reaches jurisdictions as soon as possible to support their critical work. The challenges we are seeing in vaccine distribution also underscore the need for robust and permanent investments in public health infrastructure to get us out of this cycle of crisis and response.

The Trump Administration must act to correct the lack of transparency and communication from the federal government around COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration. Over the first two weeks of vaccine distribution, more than a dozen states found their actual vaccine allocations fell significantly below initial OWS allocation forecasts.[1] For several days, OWS denied these discrepancies, before ultimately admitting officials had provided states with flawed numbers.[2] Even now, states are given just one week of advanced notice about the number of doses they will receive and have been given no information about distribution projections after February.[3] Local health departments are largely excluded from planning calls with OWS and CDC, even though they often ultimately receive and administer vaccines. There is no federal plan to publicly release sufficient data on vaccinations in long-term care settings, where more than 133,350 residents have died, accounting for 37 percent of all deaths from COVID-19.[4] The federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, which states expected to rely on to support vaccination of these particularly vulnerable populations, has administered only 17 percent of the vaccines distributed to these facilities to date.[5] 

Jurisdictions and health care providers are not the only ones in the dark; members of the public do not know when, where, or how they will be able to be vaccinated.[6] CDC already supports a national portal to provide information to the public on where they can receive flu vaccines and other vaccines; the public needs this and more information when it comes COVID-19 vaccines, which should be broadly publicized.[7]  Furthermore, while some states are taking steps to educate providers and the public to improve communication and build trust, the Trump Administration has failed to meaningfully address vaccine confidence, after spending months directly undermining such confidence by casting doubt on our nation’s world-class scientists and scientific agencies. The Trump Administration should launch a long-overdue, large-scale public awareness campaign and work with leaders in communities across the country to provide science-based information to promote high vaccination rates. The federal government must play a proactive role in improving transparency and communication with public health departments and the American people.

Finally, the Trump Administration must also act to ensure vaccine distribution efforts combat rather than exacerbate the health inequities that have been laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic. A failure to plan strategically and proactively for vaccine distribution means communities of color, residents of congregate care facilities, rural communities, and other populations disproportionately at-risk will remain neglected in our pandemic response. This is especially true for the millions of health care workers of color who provide the daily care and support for residents of congregate care settings and who provide home health care. We have seen the toll this pandemic has taken on vulnerable communities, and the egregious health disparities that have resulted from this pandemic, and we must act to combat these inequities.  

Since FDA granted the first emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine, only 2 percent of Americans have been vaccinated. In that same time, the United States passed 20 million cumulative cases of COVID-19 and saw a new record in daily deaths from COVID-19 when over 4,085 Americans died on January 7. Of the 20 million doses promised by the end of 2020, only 4 million doses were administered before the end of the year. In light of this failed vaccine rollout amidst a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths, we urge you to finally take the steps necessary to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are quickly and equitably distributed and administered across the country. 

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded Senate passage of the bipartisan, bicameral spending bill to fund federal programs crucial to Virginia and keep the federal government open through 2021. The legislation also includes comprehensive measures to help Americans amid the ongoing economic and public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Following today’s Senate passage, the bill now heads to the President’s desk for signature. 

“For nine long months, folks waited for Congress to deliver critical relief as they watched COVID-19 further devastate their communities. Today, despite that unacceptable delay, relief is officially on its way,” said Warner. “I’m proud to have worked with a bipartisan group of colleagues to help get this legislation into shape and in the hands of House and Senate leaders. And while I know that this bill is not perfect, I’m glad to know that it will help American families weather this winter and get through the holidays.”

“While this relief should have been passed much earlier, I’m pleased to see families, small businesses, hospitals, schools, and more get the assistance they need,” Kaine said. “This legislation makes critical investments in unemployment assistance, food aid, housing assistance, and other areas to directly help those struggling amid the pandemic. Though we still have more work to do to help Americans get back on their feet, I’m relieved Congress was able to come to this bipartisan compromise and fund these priorities before the holidays.” 

The following list includes some of the priorities Warner and Kaine advocated:

  • Assistance for out of work Virginians: Extends federal unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, preventing hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Virginians from losing benefits over the holidays. The senators were cosponsors of the legislation that provided the model for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), through which more than 9 million Americans are currently receiving benefits. More recently, the Senators called on leadership to extend and add additional weeks of federal employment benefits to both PUA and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs. Additionally, it gives states the option to offer additional weekly financial relief for Americans with a mix of traditional (W-2) and independent employment income who are not able to claim their full benefit, modeled after Senator Warner’s legislation.
  • Stimulus checks: Includes a stimulus payment for low- and middle-income Americans; with $600 for individual filers and $1,200 for joint filers, with an additional $600 for each qualifying child in the household. Early in the crisis, Senator Kaine called for stimulus efforts to include direct payments to households. 
  • Vaccines: Includes over $19 billion for vaccines and therapeutics and an additional $8.75 billion to support vaccine distribution, particularly for states and localities, to slow the spread of the pandemic and take a step towards a future where COVID-19 is managed.
  • Emergency housing aid and protections: Creates a new $25 billion emergency rental assistance fund to prevent evictions during the pandemic, which will be delivered through state and local governments. Earlier this year, the Senators joined their colleagues in introducing legislation to provide emergency housing assistance for those facing potential evictions. The bill will also extend the CDC eviction moratorium to allow time for implementing the emergency housing aid.
  • Relief for hard-hit small businesses and nonprofits: Provides targeted relief for small businesses struggling with the effects of the pandemic. This includes a second round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgivable loans for small businesses and nonprofits that experienced a substantial revenue decline in 2020, as well as other funds for small business relief. The Small Business Administration (SBA) is directed to provide guidance to ensure priority access for underserved communities, such as minority-owned businesses. The bill also includes grants for small businesses and nonprofits in sectors likely to continue to see substantial drops in revenue in 2021, particularly in the live entertainment sector. This aid will ensure that Virginia’s small businesses are able to stay afloat during the pandemic, keep workers on payroll, and return to job creation as COVID-19 is controlled. The Senators have been strong supporters of providing relief to small businesses, cosponsoring the Heroes Small Business Lifeline Act, which included many of the provisions in the final bill, and the Save our Stages Act, on which the live entertainment grants are modeled. 
  • Targeted relief for underserved communities: Provides the largest single investment in our country's history for minority-owned and community-based lending institutions. Largely drawn from Senator Warner’s Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act, the provision provides $12 billion to community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and minority depository institutions (MDIs) to build capital and unlock affordable access to credit for underserved and minority neighborhoods, which have been particularly hard-hit by COVID-19.
  • Education Stabilization Fund: Provides $82 billion to provide emergency support to K-12 schools and higher education institutions. The legislation includes provisions of Kaine’s Coronavirus Relief Flexibility for Students and Institutions Act that allow colleges to use emergency stabilization funds to cover lost revenue and better target funds designated for colleges hardest hit by COVID-19 by requiring an application to demonstrate need. 
  • Broadband: Includes $7 billion towards broadband, including $3.2 billion for an Emergency Broadband Benefit to help low-income families maintain their internet connections, $285 million to support broadband access in minority communities, and $300 million in broadband grants modeled on provisions Senator Warner drafted with bipartisan Senators. Additionally, the bill includes an extension of the deadline to use Coronavirus Relief Funds so that state and localities interested in using the money for broadband expansion have more time, as Senator Warner called for.
  • Support for child care providers and families: Includes $10 billion in flexible funding for the Child Care & Development Block Grant (CCDBG) to help support child care providers and ensure that working parents have access to child care during the pandemic. The bill also includes $250 million for Head Start programs.
  • Public health data modernization: Includes Senator Kaine’s Saving Lives Through Better Data Act, which will improve the nation’s public health data systems at CDC and through grants to state and local health departments to expand and modernize their systems, promoting more seamless communication, which can save lives when we’re faced with public health threats such as COVID-19. The omnibus authorizes $100 million for each of fiscal years 2021 through 2025.
  • Telehealth: Includes Senator Kaine and Senator Schatz’s Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act of 2019, which creates a grant program to evaluate, develop, and expand the use of distance health education models such as ECHO to increase access to specialty care in rural and medically underserved populations. The omnibus authorizes $10 million for each of fiscal years 2022 through 2026. The funding bill also permanently expands coverage of and payment for telehealth to treat mental health care, which is in line with Senator Warner’s CONNECT for Health Act, which Senator Kaine is a cosponsor.
  • Ends surprise billing: Includes a provision to end surprise billing, something Senators Warner and Kaine have long advocated for. 
  • U.S. Postal Service: Converts the CARES Act $10 billion loan into direct funding for USPS without requiring repayment. These funds will be used for operational costs and other expenses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Warner is a cosponsor of the Postal Service Emergency Assistance Act, which would provide USPS with significant direct funding. 
  • Veterans: Provides $104.4 billion in funding for the VA, an increase of $12.5 billion over FY20 levels. This funding increase provides $2.7 billion more than the previous fiscal year for health care delivered at VA facilities nationwide. The bill provides robust funding in several areas important for Virginia veterans, including $815 million for critical VA Medical and Prosthetic research, an increase of $1.18 billion over FY20 levels for electronic health record modernization, nearly $2 billon in support of programs to prevent veteran homelessness and $312.6 million for suicide prevention.
  • Infrastructure: Includes funding for key projects that were championed by Warner and Kaine to benefit Virginia’s infrastructure:
    • Includes a provision pushed for by Senators Warner and Kaine to allow for the construction of a new Long Bridge on the Potomac River, which will double the capacity of the rail crossing between Virginia and D.C. The current two-track Long Bridge is the only rail bridge connecting Virginia to Washington, D.C., and it is at 98 percent capacity during peak hours, which means it is one of the most significant rail chokepoints along the East Coast. The new Long Bridge program will double the capacity of the Potomac River rail crossing by adding a second two-track bridge adjacent to the existing bridge and including a new bike-pedestrian shared use path spanning the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Potomac River. Senators Warner and Kaine introduced the Long Bridge Act of 2020 in August to allow for this construction.
    • Includes the full federal funding of $150 million for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to fund critical capital investment and safety projects. In addition, the bill provides $14 billion in emergency relief for public transit agencies to continue operations during the pandemic, ensuring access to transportation for frontline workers and civil servants.
    • Includes a one year extension of Community Development Block Grant funds to the City of Norfolk and other localities to build climate resilient infrastructure projects. Senators Kaine and Warner joined Senator John Hoeven in introducing S.4017 in June, which would also have provided an extension for the NDRC program.
    • Includes $87.5 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program—an increase of $2.5 million from FY 2020. The Chesapeake Bay Program coordinates Chesapeake Bay watershed restoration and protection efforts, and the majority of its funds are passed through to the states and local communities for on-the-ground restoration.
    • Authorizes federal funds to cover 65% of the costs associated with construction projects to address close to $1.5 billion of flood control needs in the City of Norfolk.
    • Grants a critical cost adjustment to allow work to continue on the Deep Creek Bridge inChesapeake to address traffic concerns.
    • Authorizes over $102.7 million in federal funds for construction of the North Landing BridgeReplacement project.
    • Provides up to $9 million for the Federal Aviation Administration to continue its remote tower system pilot program at smaller airports, including the Remote Air Traffic Control Tower at Leesburg Executive Airport.
  • Great American Outdoors Act: With Senator Warner’s Great American Outdoors Act now law, the FY21 omnibus affirms funding for several deferred maintenance projects in Virginia:
    • George Washington Memorial Parkway – A $207 million project to restore 7.6 miles of northern section of the GW Parkway and implement critical safety measures. The Senators have long advocated for federal funding for this project for several years as seen here and here.
    • Shenandoah National Park – A $27 million project to pave and restore nearly 50 miles of Skyline Drive and various overlooks. Shenandoah will also receive nearly $3.5 million to remove unnecessary buildings and restore greenspace within the park.
    • Colonial National Historical Park – A $16.5 million project to restore nearly 5 miles of shoreline along the York River.
  • FBI Headquarters: Provides no funding for a new FBI headquarters and includes language that encourages General Services Administration (GSA) to provide a new prospectus, particularly after the Trump Administration abruptly abandoned plans to develop a new campus headquarters for the FBI. Earlier this year, Senators Warner and Kaine opposed an attempt in an earlier Republican COVID-19 relief package that would have provided $1.75 billion for construction of a new FBI HQ in its current downtown D.C. location.  
  • Miners’ Benefits: Extends the funding for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund until the end of 2021 by extending the tax on mining companies that helps fund the program. Both Kaine and Warner introduced the Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Solvency Act calling on Congress to extend the excise tax through the end of 2030.
  • Shipbuilding & MILCON funding: Provides $23.27 billion for shipbuilding for 10 battle force ships including full funding for a second Virginia-class submarine, which Senators Warner and Kaine personally advocated for. The bill also appropriates $237 million for 6 MILCON projects in Virginia, including:
    • Humphreys Engineer Center, Training Support Facility (Army) - $51m
    • Norfolk, E-2D Training Facility (Navy) - $30.4m
    • Norfolk, Corrosion Control and Paint Facility (Navy) - $17.671m
    • Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Access Control Point Main Gate with Land Acquisition (Air Force) - $19.5m
    • Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Story, Operations Facility and Command Center (Def-Wide) - $54.5m
    • JEB Little Creek-Story, NSWG Facilities (Def-Wide) - $58m
  • Federal contractors: Senators Warner and Kaine also pushed to extend a provision from CARES (3610), which allows contractual adjustments for a paid leave program, allowing contractors to keep employees on the payroll if federal facilities close due to the pandemic – an important provision for our defense industrial base and cleared national security workforce. 
  • Foster care and homeless youth: Includes key provisions of Senator Kaine’s bill with Senator Murray and Senator Portman, the Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act, to remove barriers to financial aid for students experiencing homelessness or students formerly in foster care by easing the application and determination for becoming eligible for aid. The bill also includes language allowing foster youth to remain in the system until October 1, 2021, regardless of their age—a move that Senators Warner and Kaine called for in a recent letter to the administration.
  • Funds Childhood Disease ResearchProvides $12.6 million for the Gabriella Miller Kids First Pediatric Research Program to conduct pediatric cancer and disease research. The Senators worked to enact the legislation authorizing this program, named for 10-year-old Gabriella Miller of Loudoun County, who passed away from cancer in October of 2013.
  • Supporting working students and families: Includes key provisions of Senator Kaine’s bill with Senator Baldwin, the Working Students Actto reduce the “work penalty” that many students who work while attending school face. Currently, students who work while attending school often are eligible for less financial aid due to their work income. The appropriations bill enacts a 35% increase for working students and 20% increase for families to the income protection allowance (IPA), shielding more of their income from reducing their financial aid.
  • Student Loan Repayment: Extends an important change to existing tax policy allowing employers to use pre-tax dollars to help pay down employees’ student debt until 2025 – a provision modeled after Senator Warner’s bipartisan Employer Participation in Repayment Act to help more than 44 million Americans with student loan debt.
  • Ashanti Alert: Includes $1 million in federal funding to help with the nationwide implementation of the Ashanti Alert system. Following the abduction of 19-year old Ashanti Billie, who did not meet the criteria for an Amber or Silver Alert, Senator Warner secured unanimous passage of this national alert system through the Senate on December 6, 2018, and has been a leader in the fight to implement the Ashanti Alert nationwide ever since.
  • Nutrition: Provides $13 billion in nutrition assistance, including a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits through June 30, 2021 for all SNAP participants. Excludes unemployment compensation from being counted as income for the purposes of calculating SNAP benefits and eligibility. Provides $400 million for food banks through The Emergency Food Assistance Program.
  • Farmers: Provides $13 billion for direct payments, purchases, and loans to producers who have suffered losses due to the pandemic, including funds to support the food supply chain through food purchases, donations to food banks, and support for local food systems. Additionally, it includes $5 billion for supplemental payments to row crop producers; $3 billion for supplemental payments to cattle producers and contract growers of livestock and poultry, dairy farmers, and producers who were forced to euthanize livestock or poultry; $225 million for producers of specialty crops; and $1.5 billion to purchase food for distribution to those in need.
  • Timber Harvesting/Hauling: Provides up to $200 million to support timber harvesting and timber hauling businesses impacted by COVID-19. 
  • Dairy: Provides up to $400 million for a Dairy Product Donation Program, modeled after the 2018 Farm Bill pilot program to facilitate the donation of dairy products and minimize food waste. 
  • Textiles: Allows USDA to make payments to users of upland cotton and extra-long staple cotton.
  • Fisheries: Provides $300 million in assistance to help fisheries mitigate COVID-19 related impacts. 
  • Water Utility Bill Assistance: Provides $638 million for a new program to help low-income families cover the costs of drinking water and wastewater utility bills by making funds available to states and Tribes. These localities will provide dollars to owners or operators of public water systems or treatment works to reduce arrearages and rates for low-income households.
  • Appalachian Regional Commission: Includes a record $180 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission, an increase of $5 million from FY20.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Angus King (I-ME), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) in urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide relief for young people in the foster care system as they continue to face a number of unique challenges as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. In a letter to Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson, the Senators asked that HHS work with states to extend relief to foster families and implement temporary and long-term changes to help foster youth weather this crisis and secure a better future. 

“Almost all families in the United States have had to make significant adjustments in their daily lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for the children and young adults in our nation’s foster care system, periods of change and adjustment are not new,” wrote the Senators. “Foster youth have survived a lifetime of uncertainty before and after entering foster care. The serious health challenges and economic downturn brought by the COVID-19 pandemic have merely exacerbated existing challenges faced by the approximately 424,000 children in the foster care system and the more than 20,400 young adults who ‘age out’ of foster care each year.”

“As of December 10, 2020, over 70 million applications for unemployment benefits had been filed since March 21, 2020. Given this high unemployment rate—the highest we have seen in the U.S. in recent memory—we are increasingly concerned about the potentially dire consequences foster youth may face during the economic recession brought on by the pandemic,” they continued. “Even before the public health emergency, only about half of youth aging out of the foster care system each year were anticipated to have some form of gainful employment by the age of 24. We believe that if temporary changes are made to strengthen support and resources for foster youth, they will be better equipped to pursue their goals and become active members of our nation’s workforce.”

In their letter, the Senators expressed particular concern about the impact of the digital divide on foster youth, who often lack the proper equipment and internet services needed to participate in virtual learning. Specifically, the Senators noted findings from a report indicating that only 21 percent of foster youth have regular access to a computer, with that number dipping as low as five percent for foster youth in rural settings.

 Specifically, the Senators asked HHS to:

  • Continue to encourage states that have not previously exercised the title IV-E program option to extend foster care programs and extend Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood Program (Chafee Program) services until age 23
  • Direct guidance to states regarding additional payments to foster care families and providers as part of states’ response to COVID-19
  • Provide a temporary moratorium on work and study requirements for foster youth during the pandemic
  • Allow title IV-B funds to be used to provide internet and other technology to vulnerable foster youth and families
  • Work with states to address the impact of the digital divide on foster youth

As Governor and during his time in the Senate, Sen. Warner has been a longtime champion for increased access to broadband and measures to help address the digital divide. In March, he led 17 of his colleagues in urging major internet service providers to take steps to accommodate the incoming unprecedented reliance on telepresence services. After this effort, a number of major internet service providers announced the adoption of practices to better accommodate the use of remote technologies. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner also introduced legislation to help ensure adequate home internet connectivity for K-12 students during COVID-19. He has also pushed the FCC to ensure that millions of Americans are made aware of their eligibility for the FCC’s Lifeline program – the primary federal program charged with helping low-income families obtain broadband and telephone services. Most recently, he called on the seven largest internet service providers (ISPs) to do their part to limit the economic and social disruption caused by COVID-19 and help ensure that children are able to meaningfully participate in their education. 

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

 

Dear Assistant Secretary Johnson:

We write today in support of children and youth in the foster care system across the country as they face additional challenges due to the economic and health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the unprecedented and long-term economic and public health consequences of the pandemic, we ask that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provide relief for those currently in the foster care system and those transitioning out of foster care to maximize future opportunities for these young people.

Almost all families in the United States have had to make significant adjustments in their daily lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for the children and young adults in our nation’s foster care system, periods of change and adjustment are not new. Foster youth have survived a lifetime of uncertainty before and after entering foster care. The serious health challenges and economic downturn brought by the COVID-19 pandemic have merely exacerbated existing challenges faced by the approximately 424,000 children in the foster care system and the more than 20,400 young adults who “age out” of foster care each year.[1] For this reason, we ask that you make both temporary and long-term changes to act in the best interest of the future of our nation’s foster youth.

As of December 10, 2020, over 70 million applications for unemployment benefits had been filed since March 21, 2020.[2] Given this high unemployment rate—the highest we have seen in the U.S. in recent memory—we are increasingly concerned about the potentially dire consequences foster youth may face during the economic recession brought on by the pandemic. Even before the public health emergency, only about half of youth aging out of the foster care system each year were anticipated to have some form of gainful employment by the age of 24.[3] We believe that if temporary changes are made to strengthen support and resources for foster youth, they will be better equipped to pursue their goals and become active members of our nation’s workforce.

We are also concerned that foster youth are especially harmed by the growing digital divide caused by the pandemic. According to a report conducted by iFoster, only about 5% of youth in foster care in rural settings and 21% of youth in foster care in urban settings have regular access to a computer.[4] For many young people in the foster care system, working and learning virtually is near impossible without access to the proper equipment and internet services.

We respectfully ask that you continue to encourage states to take full advantage of existing flexibilities and make additional changes to best support foster youth:

  • Continue to encourage states that have not previously exercised the title IV-E program option to extend foster care programs and extend Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood Program (Chafee Program) services until age 23. We appreciate that you have encouraged Child Welfare Directors in states that have not exercised the title IV-E program option to serve youth up to age 21 to do so during the pandemic. Extended foster care payments are essential for ensuring the financial stability of our nation’s foster youth as they transition out of the system. During these unprecedented times, we also encourage the Administration to continue to encourage states to extend Chafee Program assistance until age 23 to achieve consistency of support after the public health declaration.
  • Direct guidance to states regarding additional payments to foster care families and providers as part of states’ response to COVID-19. In order to ensure stability for foster youth, we need to ensure that foster parents have the resources to weather the economic effects of the crisis and confront the day-to-day challenges of caring for children during the pandemic. In this effort, certain states have already provided one-time payments to foster care families. We ask that the Administration direct guidance to states on their existing authority to issue relief payments to foster families and providers to ease the burden of the pandemic.
  • Provide a temporary moratorium on work and study requirements for foster youth during the pandemic. Public health guidelines during the pandemic have made physically going to work or school impossible for many.[5] COVID-19 has highlighted the inequities of access to reliable high-speed internet and devices. In fact, foster youth face multiple barriers trying to work or study remotely. They may lack a laptop or desktop computer, have slow speeds, or no internet altogether. We encourage the Administration to lift work and study requirements now until at least 180 days after the public health crisis ends, so foster youth are not punished for circumstances outside their control. Additionally, if you determine you do not have the authority to make this change, we ask you to promptly inform the Committees of jurisdiction in Congress, the Committee on Finance in the Senate and the Committee on Ways and Means in the House.
  • Allow title IV-B funds to be used to provide internet and other technology to vulnerable foster youth and families. We appreciate the Children’s Bureau letter permitting the purchase of cell phones as an allowable expense under title IV-B and/or the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood.[6] To ensure that foster youth do not continue to fall behind in meeting their work and education obligations, we ask that allowable expenses be expanded to include laptop computers, tablets, and internet access for children and families in the child welfare system.
  • Work with states to address the impact of the digital divide on foster youth. Beyond waiving work and study requirements for foster youth during the pandemic, we ask that you consider long-term solutions to help foster youth facing significant technology-access challenges—the consequences of which have been intensified by the pandemic. We ask that you work with states on state-specific plans to ensure foster youth have the resources necessary to participate in online instruction or work virtually.

We appreciate your attention to this critical matter. We look forward to working together on behalf of our nation’s foster youth moving forward.

Sincerely,

 

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement following an announcement from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approving an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine candidate to control the spread of COVID-19:

“Today’s announcement by the FDA is much-needed good news for the families and communities who’ve lost a loved one to the virus and for those on the front lines of the COVID-19 response efforts – especially as the U.S. reached a devastating COVID-19 milestone just this week, with cases only surging by the day.

“Earlier this year, Congress provided emergency funding to accelerate the development of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine to the American public. I want to commend the scientific community for accomplishing this task in an unprecedented amount of time. Now, we must build upon this achievement to ensure the vaccine is quickly and fairly distributed to our nation’s health care and essential workers, high-risk Americans, and communities disproportionately hit by the virus.

“Despite this momentous breakthrough, we must not let our guards down. As health officials boost vaccine production for public distribution, we must continue to follow public health guidance on frequent handwashing, mask wearing, and social distancing. While I welcome this good news, the best way to keep our communities safe and slow the spread is by following these necessary steps.”

Throughout this health crisis, Sen. Warner has pushed to make sure that we have the resources and data needed to understand the scope of the crisis and its effect on diverse communities. In March, Sen. Warner supported the CARES Act which directed more than $10 billion in funding to help accelerate, develop, and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine under Operation Warp Speed. Then, in April, Sen. Warner joined his colleagues in urging pharmaceutical companies engaged in COVID-19-related work to prioritize diversity in any coronavirus vaccine or trial to ensure that new treatments work for all Americans. Earlier this week, Sen. Warner led his Senate colleagues in a letter to the Trump Administration urging HHS and the CDC to ensure a fair and equitable vaccine distribution.

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WASHINGTONToday, five lawmakers in leadership roles of House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over misinformation sent President-elect Biden a letter recommending that his COVID-19 response include a focus on misinformation.

The lawmakers are Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA); House Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA); House Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky (D-IL); Senate Rules Committee Ranking Member Amy Klobuchar (D-MN); and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA).

“We write to recommend that you incorporate a focus on misinformation within your broader COVID-19 response, including by adding a leading misinformation studies expert to the Task Force,” wrote the lawmakers. “The COVID-19 infodemic is about to dangerously intersect with a misinformation-laden anti-vaccine movement that has led to tragic consequences in our country.”

“While we’re optimistic a vaccine will aid our country in short order, we worry that misinformation threatens the success of a national vaccine program. A decade of misinformation on the safety and efficacy of vaccines, propelled in recent years by social media platforms, has laid the foundation for skepticism and opposition towards the COVID-19 vaccines. In November, four in ten Americans said they would not agree to be vaccinated against COVID-19 if an FDA-approved vaccine was available at no cost,” the law makers continued.

“These concerns motivate us to urge you to add a member to the Task Force who has a deep understanding of misinformation, including its causes, exacerbating factors, and ways to combat it. Professor Joan Donovan is ideally situated for the role. She is one of the world’s leading scholars of misinformation,” the lawmakers wrote. “Professor Donovan also has a background in health and life sciences and has recently been studying COVID-19 misinformation.”

You can read the full text of the letter HERE.

# # #

WASHINGTON – As the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) independent vaccine review panel meets tomorrow to consider the emergency use authorization of an initial COVID-19 vaccine, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led nine of his colleagues in urging Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield to ensure a fair and equitable vaccine distribution. The letter follows HHS Secretary Azar’s comments that states should decide who gets the first round of the federally approved COVID-19 vaccine, which could lead to a patchwork of varying distribution plans and affect vaccine access for minority and high-risk populations disproportionately impacted by the virus. Sen. Warner’s letter calls on federal health officials to provide more support to states so that they fully understand and appropriately implement expert guidelines ensuring equity. 

“We are writing to urge the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine by working closely with states to understand and appropriately implement COVID-19 vaccine distribution recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). As we approach potential emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration for one or more COVID-19 vaccines, it is essential that we do everything we can to ensure access to the vaccine for communities and populations hit hardest by the pandemic,” wrote the Senators to HHS Secretary Azar and CDC Director Redfield.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is a 15-member panel comprised of leading medical and public health experts with a focus on the fields of immunization practices and public health. The Advisory Committee reports to the CDC Director and is responsible for developing evidence-based public health recommendations for the safe and ethical use of vaccines. In the case of COVID-19, where initial supplies of a vaccine will be limited, ACIP will make recommendations to ensure the vaccine is equitably distributed. Historically, states and localities – in coordination with federal health authorities – use ACIP recommendations to develop their vaccination strategies. 

In their letter, the Senators also underscore how the COVID-19 crisis has continued to disproportionately affect older Americans, communities of color, and essential workers. Overrepresentation in front-line jobs, higher rates of chronic disease, inequitable access to health care, and longstanding bias within the health care system itself have all contributed to these disparities.

“As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on millions of families and claimed the lives of more than 280,000 Americans to date. Older adults, essential workers and communities of color have been particularly hard hit by this virus. Individuals 85 and older are 630 times more likely to die from COVID-19, while Black and Latino Americans are more than twice as likely to become infected with COVID-19 and at a significantly higher risk of hospitalization and death compared to white Americans. Essential workers who cannot work from home also face high potential exposure to COVID-19 - particularly Americans living and working in long-term care facilities, prisons and other congregate care facilities. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are three times as likely to die of COVID-19 compared with others,” they continued.

In their letter, the Senators urge that HHS and CDC work closely with state and local officials to ensure they fully understand and implement ACIP’s recommendations in a manner that prioritizes public health, equity, and the wellbeing of vulnerable communities.

Sen. Warner was also joined on the letter by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Angus King (I-ME), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

Throughout this health crisis, Sen. Warner has pushed to make sure that we have the data needed to understand the scope of the crisis and its effect on diverse communities. He has previously introduced legislation to require HHS to collect and report racial and other demographic data on COVID-19 testing, treatment, and fatality rates, and provide a summary of the final statistics and a report to Congress within 60 days after the end of the public health emergency. In addition, Sen. Warner has joined his colleagues in urging pharmaceutical companies engaged in COVID-19-related work to prioritize diversity in any coronavirus vaccine or trial to ensure that new treatments work for all Americans.

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

 

Dear Secretary Azar and Director Redfield:

We are writing to urge the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine by working closely with states to understand and appropriately implement COVID-19 vaccine distribution recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). As we approach potential emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration for one or more COVID-19 vaccines, it is essential that we do everything we can to ensure access to the vaccine for communities and populations hit hardest by the pandemic.

As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on millions of families and claimed the lives of more than 280,000 Americans to date. Older adults, essential workers and communities of color have been particularly hard hit by this virus. Individuals 85 and older are 630 times more likely to die from COVID-19, while Black and Latino Americans are more than twice as likely to become infected with COVID-19 and at a significantly higher risk of hospitalization and death compared to white Americans. Essential workers who cannot work from home also face high potential exposure to COVID-19 - particularly Americans living and working in long-term care facilities, prisons and other congregate care facilities. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are three times as likely to die of COVID-19 compared with others.

The CDC’s ACIP is comprised of leading medical and public health experts. The Advisory Committee is responsible for developing evidence-based public health recommendations for the safe and ethical use of vaccines. Additionally, in the case of COVID-19 – where initial supplies of a vaccine will be limited – ACIP will serve the critical role of making recommendations to ensure the vaccine is equitably distributed. ACIP’s recommendations will provide critical guidance to both the federal government and states regarding effectively targeting a COVID-19 vaccine, including to the most at-risk and in need populations. 

We ask that you work in coordination with federal, state and local partners to ensure they fully understand and implement ACIP’s recommendations in a manner that prioritizes public health, equity, and the most vulnerable communities. Should you have any additional questions regarding this request, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Sincerely,

###

 

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $10,022,292 in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for Virginia health centers.

“This federal funding will support centers who are doing life-saving work in their communities during the ongoing health crisis,” the Senators said. “We’re pleased to see these federal dollars go towards supporting Virginia health centers.”

The following organizations will receive funding:

 

Recipient

City

Amount

 

Johnson Health Center

Lynchburg

$1,597,851

Southern Dominion Health Systems, Inc.

Victoria

$1,288,427

Peninsula Institute For Community Health, Inc.

Newport News

$3,464,307

Vernon J. Harris East End Community Health Center

Richmond

$2,648,674

Blue Ridge Medical Center, Inc.

 

Arrington

$1,023,033

Total:

 

$10,022,292

 

This funding was awarded through the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Health Center Program, which provides funds to community-based health care providers that provide primary care services in underserved areas. These health centers must meet a stringent set of requirements, including providing care on a sliding fee scale based on ability to pay and operating under a governing board that includes patients.

 

###

 

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senator Brian Schatz and their congressional colleagues in calling for the expansion of access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic to be made permanent. Provisions from the CONNECT for Health Act, legislation introduced by Warner and cosponsored by Kaine, have allowed Medicare beneficiaries in all areas of the country, and in their homes, to utilize telehealth services, as well as more types of health care providers to provide telehealth, were included in previous COVID-19 legislation but will expire following the pandemic unless congressional leaders act to make those measures permanent.

“Telehealth has been a critical tool during the COVID-19 pandemic in ensuring that patients can continue to receive the health care services that they need while minimizing the spread of the virus and keeping health care providers and patients healthy and safe,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “We continue to hear from our constituents and health care providers that the uncertainty about the long-term future of Medicare telehealth coverage is a barrier to organizations investing fully in telehealth. Congress needs to act now to better serve patients and health care providers during the pandemic, and to ensure that telehealth remains an option after the pandemic is over.”

In their letter, the lawmakers highlight the growing use and benefits of telehealth during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as patients seek to avoid traveling to hospitals and other providers and instead receive care at home. New data shows that the number of Medicare beneficiaries using telehealth services increased by nearly 13,000 percent in just a month and a half during the pandemic.

Senators Warner and Kaine have been longtime advocates for increased access to health care through telehealth. In June, Warner and Kaine sent a letter to Senate leadership calling for the permanent expansion of access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Kaine also introduced bipartisan legislation in 2019 to expand health care to rural areas through telehealth. The bill passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee as part of the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019.

The bipartisan and bicameral Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act, was first introduced in 2016.

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

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, and Minority Leader McCarthy:

As we near the end of the year and the 116th Congress, we urge you to include provisions in end of the year legislation to make permanent expanded coverage of Medicare telehealth services. Specifically, immediate action to permanently waive geographic restrictions for originating sites, authorize health centers in rural and underserved areas to provide telehealth, and allow beneficiaries to use telehealth in their homes would be key steps to ensure much-needed certainty about Medicare telehealth coverage for health care providers and to improve access to care for patients.

Telehealth has been a critical tool during the COVID-19 pandemic in ensuring that patients can continue to receive the health care services that they need while minimizing the spread of the virus and keeping health care providers and patients healthy and safe.  Telehealth is also important in increasing capacity at health care facilities and reducing health care providers’ use of scarce personal protective equipment.  For these reasons, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance at the beginning of the pandemic advising individuals and health care providers to optimize the use of telehealth services.

The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act included provisions from our bipartisan CONNECT for Health Act to increase access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries during the COVID-19 pandemic.  As a result, waivers of statutory geographic and originating site restrictions have allowed Medicare beneficiaries to use telehealth services in all areas of the country, as well as in their homes.  In addition, more types of health care providers including health centers in rural and underserved areas, are authorized to provide distant site telehealth services, among other important flexibilities.  

This new authority resulted in a rapid increase in telehealth utilization.  An early analysis of the expansion of Medicare telehealth coverage during the pandemic shows that before the public health emergency, about 13,000 beneficiaries in fee-for-service Medicare received telehealth services in a week, but by the last week of April, nearly 1.7 million beneficiaries received telehealth services.  The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) also found that beneficiaries are getting care through telehealth at similar rates across demographics.  In response to these findings, CMS stated that, “The rapid adoption of telemedicine among providers and patients has shown that telehealth is here to stay.”

However, the authority for this expanded coverage of Medicare telehealth services is temporary and tied to the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, which is renewed in three-month increments.  We continue to hear from our constituents and health care providers that the uncertainty about the long-term future of Medicare telehealth coverage is a barrier to organizations investing fully in telehealth—even now during the pandemic.  Ramping up telehealth requires significant costs—including the purchase of equipment such as tablets and webcams, telehealth platforms, additional staff, provider training, and changes to electronic health records, billing, and patient engagement processes.  Without more certainty about the future of Medicare coverage, many organizations are not investing in all of these areas to optimize the use and availability of telehealth.

Therefore, Congress needs to act now to better serve patients and health care providers during the pandemic, and to ensure that telehealth remains an option after the pandemic is over.  We understand that further data analysis is underway to assess the impact of the telehealth changes that have been available during the public health emergency.  However, to fully benefit from telehealth during the pandemic, there are steps Congress should take before the end of the year to expand access to telehealth with appropriate guardrails and beneficiary protections.

In particular, Congress should immediately provide permanent authority to waive or remove the geographic restrictions on originating sites in section 1834(m) of the Social Security Act so that a beneficiary’s ability to receive telehealth services is no longer based on where he or she lives.  Services that CMS has determined to be clinically appropriate to be delivered through telehealth should be available to all beneficiaries, not just some.  CMS concurs, stating that “The data have shown that telehealth can be an important source of care across the country, not just for those living in rural areas.”

We also urge action to permanently authorize Federally Qualified Health Centers and Rural Health Clinics to provide distant site telehealth services and to allow patients to receive clinically appropriate telehealth services in their homes.  These actions would address the restrictions on originating sites that CMS has stated are the greatest barriers to the expansion of Medicare telehealth services as well as ensure that health centers can continue their pivotal role in providing health care in rural and underserved areas.   

Telehealth is an area of strong bipartisan support, and Congress can, and should, act now to lead the way in ensuring expanded access to telehealth.  We appreciate your collaboration on this important issue.

Sincerely,

 

###

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senator Brian Schatz and their congressional colleagues in calling for the expansion of access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic to be made permanent. Provisions from the CONNECT for Health Act, legislation introduced by Warner and cosponsored by Kaine, have allowed Medicare beneficiaries in all areas of the country, and in their homes, to utilize telehealth services, as well as more types of health care providers to provide telehealth, were included in previous COVID-19 legislation but will expire following the pandemic unless congressional leaders act to make those measures permanent.

“Telehealth has been a critical tool during the COVID-19 pandemic in ensuring that patients can continue to receive the health care services that they need while minimizing the spread of the virus and keeping health care providers and patients healthy and safe,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “We continue to hear from our constituents and health care providers that the uncertainty about the long-term future of Medicare telehealth coverage is a barrier to organizations investing fully in telehealth. Congress needs to act now to better serve patients and health care providers during the pandemic, and to ensure that telehealth remains an option after the pandemic is over.”

In their letter, the lawmakers highlight the growing use and benefits of telehealth during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as patients seek to avoid traveling to hospitals and other providers and instead receive care at home. New data shows that the number of Medicare beneficiaries using telehealth services increased by nearly 13,000 percent in just a month and a half during the pandemic.

Senators Warner and Kaine have been longtime advocates for increased access to health care through telehealth. In June, Warner and Kaine sent a letter to Senate leadership calling for the permanent expansion of access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Kaine also introduced bipartisan legislation in 2019 to expand health care to rural areas through telehealth. The bill passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee as part of the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019.

 

The bipartisan and bicameral Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act, was first introduced in 2016.

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

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, and Minority Leader McCarthy:

As we near the end of the year and the 116th Congress, we urge you to include provisions in end of the year legislation to make permanent expanded coverage of Medicare telehealth services. Specifically, immediate action to permanently waive geographic restrictions for originating sites, authorize health centers in rural and underserved areas to provide telehealth, and allow beneficiaries to use telehealth in their homes would be key steps to ensure much-needed certainty about Medicare telehealth coverage for health care providers and to improve access to care for patients.

Telehealth has been a critical tool during the COVID-19 pandemic in ensuring that patients can continue to receive the health care services that they need while minimizing the spread of the virus and keeping health care providers and patients healthy and safe.  Telehealth is also important in increasing capacity at health care facilities and reducing health care providers’ use of scarce personal protective equipment.  For these reasons, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance at the beginning of the pandemic advising individuals and health care providers to optimize the use of telehealth services.

The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act included provisions from our bipartisan CONNECT for Health Act to increase access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries during the COVID-19 pandemic.  As a result, waivers of statutory geographic and originating site restrictions have allowed Medicare beneficiaries to use telehealth services in all areas of the country, as well as in their homes.  In addition, more types of health care providers including health centers in rural and underserved areas, are authorized to provide distant site telehealth services, among other important flexibilities.  

 

This new authority resulted in a rapid increase in telehealth utilization.  An early analysis of the expansion of Medicare telehealth coverage during the pandemic shows that before the public health emergency, about 13,000 beneficiaries in fee-for-service Medicare received telehealth services in a week, but by the last week of April, nearly 1.7 million beneficiaries received telehealth services.  The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) also found that beneficiaries are getting care through telehealth at similar rates across demographics.  In response to these findings, CMS stated that, “The rapid adoption of telemedicine among providers and patients has shown that telehealth is here to stay.”

 

However, the authority for this expanded coverage of Medicare telehealth services is temporary and tied to the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, which is renewed in three-month increments.  We continue to hear from our constituents and health care providers that the uncertainty about the long-term future of Medicare telehealth coverage is a barrier to organizations investing fully in telehealth—even now during the pandemic.  Ramping up telehealth requires significant costs—including the purchase of equipment such as tablets and webcams, telehealth platforms, additional staff, provider training, and changes to electronic health records, billing, and patient engagement processes.  Without more certainty about the future of Medicare coverage, many organizations are not investing in all of these areas to optimize the use and availability of telehealth.

 

Therefore, Congress needs to act now to better serve patients and health care providers during the pandemic, and to ensure that telehealth remains an option after the pandemic is over.  We understand that further data analysis is underway to assess the impact of the telehealth changes that have been available during the public health emergency.  However, to fully benefit from telehealth during the pandemic, there are steps Congress should take before the end of the year to expand access to telehealth with appropriate guardrails and beneficiary protections.

 

In particular, Congress should immediately provide permanent authority to waive or remove the geographic restrictions on originating sites in section 1834(m) of the Social Security Act so that a beneficiary’s ability to receive telehealth services is no longer based on where he or she lives.  Services that CMS has determined to be clinically appropriate to be delivered through telehealth should be available to all beneficiaries, not just some.  CMS concurs, stating that “The data have shown that telehealth can be an important source of care across the country, not just for those living in rural areas.”

 

We also urge action to permanently authorize Federally Qualified Health Centers and Rural Health Clinics to provide distant site telehealth services and to allow patients to receive clinically appropriate telehealth services in their homes.  These actions would address the restrictions on originating sites that CMS has stated are the greatest barriers to the expansion of Medicare telehealth services as well as ensure that health centers can continue their pivotal role in providing health care in rural and underserved areas.   

 

Telehealth is an area of strong bipartisan support, and Congress can, and should, act now to lead the way in ensuring expanded access to telehealth.  We appreciate your collaboration on this important issue.

 

Sincerely,

 

###

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Charles Rettig and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma urging them to ensure that families aren’t denied critical financial assistance needed in order to purchase quality health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The letter comes after Sen. Warner’s office heard from Virginia families, including the Burger family, who discovered that they were wrongfully denied tax credits due to delays in processing 2019 tax filings that are required to purchase affordable health insurance through the ACA marketplace exchanges. The deadline to enroll for the ACA is December 15. 

“I am writing to draw your attention to an issue that could cause a significant number of individuals to be denied affordable health insurance on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace. It is my understanding that due to delayed processing of 2019 tax returns, numerous Americans have been deemed in violation of the Marketplace’s ‘failure to file and reconcile’ requirement (FTR), and will be ineligible for advanced premium tax credits (APTCs) to ensure affordable health coverage starting January 1, 2021,” wrote Sen. Warner to IRSCommissioner Rettig and Administrator Verma.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) established advanced premium tax credits (APTC) to help working families purchase affordable health insurance through the exchanges. In order to receive the tax credit during this year’s enrollment period, individuals have to complete their 2019 tax return. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRS has not been able to process these returns in a timely manner due to reduced staff hours at the agency. As a result, individuals who would normally be eligible for the credit cannot receive it because the IRS has not yet processed their returns. 

“Put simply, a number of Americans will be denied an APTC in the Marketplace through no fault of their own, because their tax returns were delayed. I have already heard from several Virginians who – as a direct result of delayed tax returns – have been unable to or confused about their ability to enroll in health care coverage during this years’ open enrollment period,” continued Sen. Warner. “Financial assistance is essential to millions of working class Americans and their families to ensure affordable health coverage on the Marketplace. I am concerned that individuals will be wrongfully denied coverage and that a failure to address this issue could result in these families going without health care coverage during the peak of an unprecedented global pandemic.”

In his letter, Sen. Warner also pressed the Administration to suspend termination of the 2021 APTC, inform affected enrollees of this change, and extend the deadline to apply for 2021 ACA coverage through a special open enrollment period for individuals and families wrongfully denied financial assistance.  

Text of the letter is available here or below.

 

Dear Commissioner Rettig and Administrator Verma:

I am writing to draw your attention to an issue that could cause a significant number of individuals to be denied affordable health insurance on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace. It is my understanding that due to delayed processing of 2019 tax returns, numerous Americans have been deemed in violation of the Marketplace’s “failure to file and reconcile” requirement (FTR), and will be ineligible for advanced premium tax credits (APTCs) to ensure affordable health coverage starting January 1, 2021. 

Under existing Marketplace regulations, an enrollee becomes ineligible for an APTC if they did not file an income tax return for a prior year during which an APTC was received. However, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Treasury delayed the tax filing deadline for all Americans from April 15, 2020 to July 15, 2020. In addition, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has cut staff hours as result of the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to experience significant tax return processing delays. 

Put simply, a number of Americans will be denied an APTC in the Marketplace through no fault of their own, because their tax returns were delayed. I have already heard from several Virginians who – as a direct result of delayed tax returns – have been unable to or confused about their ability to enroll in health care coverage during this years’ open enrollment period. 

Financial assistance is essential to millions of working class Americans and their families to ensure affordable health coverage on the Marketplace. I am concerned that individuals will be wrongfully denied coverage and that a failure to address this issue could result in these families going without health care coverage during the peak of an unprecedented global pandemic.

I urge you to address this problem by suspending the termination of 2021 APTC. In addition, I ask that you inform affected enrollees of this change and extend the deadline to apply for 2021 coverage through a special open enrollment period for individuals who were deterred from enrolling due to the previous notices they received threatening to end their financial assistance.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter, and I look forward to hearing back from you.

Sincerely,

Mark R. Warner

U.S. Senator

 

 

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) finalized its Stark and anti-kickback rules. The updated rules allow more health organizations to enter into value-based arrangements that will lead to better patient health outcomes and help reduce health care costs. Specifically, the change will create new exceptions and safe harbors in existing physician self-referral law to allow for the increased coordination between physicians and other health care entities while still ensuring safeguards are in place to protect against fraud and inappropriate use.

“Reducing long-term health care costs requires a health care system that encourages coordinated care, value-based healthcare, and outcomes-based payment. That is why I have worked with Sen. Cassidy in calling for commonsense changes to our federal health programs that enable more health care organizations to innovate and work together.

“Today’s reforms by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to the Anti-Kickback Statute and Physician Self-Referral (Stark) Law are a significant step in the right direction for improving patient care. Our nation’s physicians, health systems and other stakeholders have long called for this modernization and that is why I have previously pressed CMS to make these important changes. I applaud CMS for their responsiveness and I look forward to working with them and Virginia providers to properly implement these changes.”

In Congress, Sen. Warner has long pushed for policy changes to help lower health care costs for Virginia seniors and families. In October, Sen. Warner led a letter with Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) asking HHS to finalize its proposed rule updating existing Stark and anti-kickback Laws to allow for the increased use of value based arrangements. Last year, Sen. Warner teamed up with Sen. Cassidy to unveil a discussion draft of the Patient Affordability, Value and Efficiency Act, bipartisan legislation to facilitate new and innovative payment models for pharmaceuticals and other medical services so that patients have better access to treatment and ensure that the health care market is more efficient.  

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and 13 of their Senate colleagues in requesting that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of the Treasury conduct an analysis of how the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s repeal in California v. Texas would affect health care coverage in the United States, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Passed in 2010, the ACA drastically expanded the number of Americans with health insurance. Before the ACA, over 45 million Americans were uninsured and the 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage,” the Senators wrote. “After the ACA’s passage, over 20 million people gained health care coverage—including roughly 12 million people who were newly enrolled due to the ACA’s expansion of the Medicaid program. People with pre-existing conditions could no longer be denied coverage health insurers were required to expand coverage for mental health and substance use treatment; and young adults could stay on their parents’ health coverage until age 26—making it easier for millions of Americans to access care.”

“In the midst of a global pandemic that has killed roughly 220,000 people in the U.S. and infected over 8 million others, the President of the United States is actively asking the Supreme Court to eliminate the ACA’s critical health protections,” they continued. “Republicans in the U.S. Senate had the opportunity to pass legislation barring the President from advocating against the ACA in court, but they refused—choosing instead to ram through Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination and place the health care law at even greater risk.”

Despite the ACA’s success in expanding access to health care and reducing the number of uninsured Americans, Republican lawmakers have spent years working to overturn and undermine our nation’s health care law. These efforts have culminated in California v. Texas, a case led by 18 attorneys general and President Trump’s Department of Justice that calls for the courts to declare the entire ACA unconstitutional. The President is also currently working to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat with his nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, in time to hear arguments in the case on November 10, 2020. Barrett’s nomination is a key component of the President’s self-stated goal to “terminate health care under Obamacare [the ACA].” If the ACA is repealed, experts estimate that over 20 million Americans and 740,000 Virginians will lose health coverage – a number that is likely higher now as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to better understand how a Supreme Court decision to overturn ACA would affect health care coverage in the U.S. the Senators requested answers to the following questions:

  1. How many individuals would lose health coverage? Of those individuals:
    1. How many people would lose coverage that are currently enrolled in Medicaid in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA?
    2. How many people would lose coverage that are currently enrolled in health insurance through the ACA marketplaces?
    3. How many adult children under the age of 26 who are currently covered through their parents’ plans would lose coverage?
    4. How many individuals would lose coverage that acquired coverage through the ACA during the COVID-19 pandemic?
    5. How many individuals would lose coverage that have pre-existing conditions?
    6. To the extent practicable, please provide the number of individuals, by state, that would lose health coverage disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability status, and income level.
    7. By how much would consumers’ health care costs, including out-of-pocket costs and premiums, increase? To the extent practicable, please provide this information disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability status, and income level.
    8. How many individuals currently covered through marketplace plans would lose ACA subsidies for their plans, and what would be the average amount lost per person in subsidies?
    9. How many individuals currently enrolled in Medicare Part D would likely hit the program’s prescription drug coverage gap, or the “doughnut hole,” in the first year following the ACA’s repeal? Assuming a complete reopening of the coverage gap (i.e.,100% beneficiary coinsurance, with 0% plan contribution and no manufacturer coverage gap discount program), what would be the average increase in out-of-pocket drug costs for enrollees who reach the coverage gap phase? What would be the estimated 10-yearsavings that would accumulate to drug manufacturers under a scenario where there is no coverage gap discount program?
    10. How many Medicare beneficiaries would be affected if preventive services were no longer exempt from cost-sharing requirements, what would be the effect on out-of-pocket spending if preventive services were not “free”, and how would the drop in preventive service use affect Medicare spending?
    11. What impact would the repeal have on the solvency of the hospital insurance trust fund?
    12. What is the average tax cut that households earning over $200,000 a year, over $1 million a year, and over $3 million a year, respectively, would receive?
    13. Please provide copies of any internal analyses conducted at HHS or Treasury that assess the impact of a California v. Texas decision that overturns the ACA on health care coverage. What analysis, if any, have your agencies conducted? What plans, if any, have your agencies developed to address the predicted loss of health care coverage that would accompany such a decision?

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Dr. Secretary Azar and Secretary Mnuchin: 

We write to request that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) provide Congress with its analysis of the impact a Supreme Court decision striking down the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in California v. Texas would have on health insurance coverage in the United States. We ask that particular attention be paid to the impact such coverage losses would have on Americans in the midst of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Passed in 2010, the ACA drastically expanded the number of Americans with health insurance. Before the ACA, over 45 million Americans were uninsured and the 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage. After the ACA’s passage, over 20 million people gained health care coverage—including roughly 12 million people who were newly enrolled due to the ACA’s expansion of the Medicaid program. People with pre-existing

conditions could no longer be denied coverage health insurers were required to expand coverage for mental health and substance use treatment; and young adults could stay on their  parents’ health coverage until age 26—making it easier for millions of Americans to access care.

Despite the ACA’s unequivocal success in reducing the number of uninsured Americans, Republican lawmakers have spent years working to overturn the law. These years of sabotage have culminated in California v. Texas, a case—led by 18 attorneys general and President Trump’s Department of Justice—that calls for the courts to declare the entire ACA unconstitutional. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case on November 10, 2020. The President is currently working to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader’s Supreme Court seat with his nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, in time for the November 10th arguments. Barrett’s nomination is a key component of the President’s self-stated goal to “terminate health care under Obamacare [the ACA].”

Prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, analysts predicted that over 20 million Americans would lose health coverage if the ACA was overturned. That number is now likely far higher. In the first three months of the pandemic, unemployment rates rapidly outstripped those of the Great Recession, leaving roughly 30 million people unemployed by July. Today, around 28 million workers are receiving or seeking unemployment benefits, and estimates suggest that 5.4 million workers lost their health insurance as a result of the pandemic—swelling the ranks of Americans purchasing health insurance on the ACA marketplaces or getting coverage through Medicaid. Meanwhile, wealthy Americans would likely get a tax cut should the ACA be repealed: if the revenue measures included in the law, including taxes on the wealthiest households in the country, were to disappear, “the highest-income 0.1 percent…households would receive tax cuts averaging about $198,000 per year.”

In the midst of a global pandemic that has killed roughly 220,000 people in the U.S. and infected over 8 million others, the President of the United States is actively asking the Supreme Court to eliminate the ACA’s critical health protections. Republicans in the U.S. Senate had the opportunity to pass legislation barring the President from advocating against the ACA in court, but they refused—choosing instead to ram through Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination and place the health care law at even greater risk.

It is essential that policymakers understand the implications of a California v. Texas decision overturning the ACA. We therefore ask that HHS and Treasury provide us with information on how such a decision would impact health care coverage in the U.S. including any pre-existing internal analyses of such a decision. Specifically, should the Supreme Court overturn the ACA in its entirety:

1.      How many individuals would lose health coverage? Of those individuals:a.      How many people would lose coverage that are currently enrolled in Medicaid in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA?
b.      How many people would lose coverage that are currently enrolled in health insurance through the ACA marketplaces?
c.       How many adult children under the age of 26 who are currently covered through their parents’ plans would lose coverage?
d.      How many individuals would lose coverage that acquired coverage through the ACA during the COVID-19 pandemic?
e.      How many individuals would lose coverage that have pre-existing conditions?
2.      To the extent practicable, please provide the number of individuals, by state, that would lose health coverage disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability status, and income level.
3.      By how much would consumers’ health care costs, including out-of-pocket costs and premiums, increase? To the extent practicable, please provide this information disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability status, and income level.
4.      How many individuals currently covered through marketplace plans would lose ACA subsidies for their plans, and what would be the average amount lost per person in subsidies?
5.      How many individuals currently enrolled in Medicare Part D would likely hit the program’s prescription drug coverage gap, or the “doughnut hole,” in the first year following the ACA’s repeal? Assuming a complete reopening of the coverage gap (i.e.,100% beneficiary coinsurance, with 0% plan contribution and no manufacturer coverage gap discount program), what would be the average increase in out-of-pocket drug costs for enrollees who reach the coverage gap phase? What would be the estimated 10-yearsavings that would accumulate to drug manufacturers under a scenario where there is no coverage gap discount program?
6.      How many Medicare beneficiaries would be affected if preventive services were no longer exempt from cost-sharing requirements, what would be the effect on out-of-pocket pending if preventive services were not “free”, and how would the drop in preventive service use affect Medicare spending?
7.      What impact would the repeal have on the solvency of the hospital insurance trust fund?
8.      What is the average tax cut that households earning over $200,000 a year, over $1 million a year, and over $3 million a year, respectively, would receive?
9.      Please provide copies of any internal analyses conducted at HHS or Treasury that assess the impact of a California v. Texas decision that overturns the ACA on health care coverage. What analysis, if any, have your agencies conducted? What plans, if any, have your agencies developed to address the predicted loss of health care coverage that would accompany such a decision?

Given the grave implications of this lawsuit and the pending nature of a Supreme Court decision, we ask for your attention to this urgent matter.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) applauded the signing of his legislation to expand veterans’ access to mental health services and reduce the alarming rate of veteran suicide. The bipartisan Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act includes a number of provisions authored by Sen. Warner to empower the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide resources to and share information with veteran-serving non-profits, as well as to require it to develop a measurement tool to assess the effectiveness of mental health programs. The legislation passed through the Senate in August and was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives late last month. 

“This bill – now a law – is for every veteran throughout our nation’s history who has struggled to cope with the invisible wounds of war. The signing of this legislation today reaffirms our nation’s commitment to veterans and sends the message that every person who serves our country is deserving of the basic tools and resources needed to heal those wounds,” said Sen. Warner. “I was proud to help write this legislation and see its passage through the Senate, and today I’m proud to know that, thanks to these efforts, we’ll be providing, for the first time, this kind of direct support to veteran-serving non-profits and community networks in order to reach more veterans.”

Provisions from Sen. Warner’s IMPROVE Well-Being for Veterans Act will create a VA grant program that leverages and supports veteran-serving non-profits and other community networks in order to reduce and prevent veteran suicides. Additionally, the bipartisan bill will enhance coordination and planning of veteran mental health and suicide prevention services, and better measure the effectiveness of those programs in order to reduce the alarming number of veteran suicides and best concentrate the program’s resources on successful organizations and services.

The VA estimates that around 20 veterans die by suicide each day. Unfortunately that number has remained unchanged despite Congress more than tripling the VA’s funding for suicide prevention efforts over the last ten years to nearly $222 million in FY20. Only six of the 20 veterans who die by suicide each day receive health care services from the VA before their death. 

Sen. Warner’s IMPROVE Well-Being for Veterans Act was introduced in June 2019. Days later, at a committee hearing, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie called the bill “key” to unlocking the veteran suicide crisis. In January 2020, provisions of the Warner-Boozman legislation were included in the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act. The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and was then passed unanimously by both the full Senate and House. 

Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate of improving care for Virginia’s veterans. In January, he sent a letter to the four VA medical facilities providing care for Virginia’s veterans requesting an update on their suicide prevention efforts. He’s also met with senior leadership at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center and Hampton VA Medical Center (VAMC) to discuss wait time reduction at their facilities and suicide prevention efforts. 

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