As we start a new year, I look forward to a busy, productive 2020. While last year ended on a sour note with House Democrats’ sham impeachment of President Trump, I still believe this year Congress has the potential to enact positive reforms. However, we must work together to do so. My focus will be pushing for bipartisan legislation to improve the lives of all Americans.
One of my goals this year is to help pass bipartisan legislation to resolve the issue of surprise medical billing. I applaud President Trump for bringing attention to this serious problem in our health care system, and I also appreciate the bipartisan work being done in both the House and Senate.
Last year, I was proud to introduce the Protecting People from Surprise Medical Bills Act with Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) that would protect patients from surprise medical bills and establish an independent dispute resolution (IDR) system to resolve the resulting bill.
Under our system, insurers and providers submit an estimate of the cost of care to a neutral arbiter, who then chooses the fairer price. Our model is already in effect in several states, and is proven to be good for patients, providers and payers.
Similarly, I will continue my work as Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to improve our nation’s focus on decreasing the number of veteran suicides. For every 20 veterans who commit suicide every day, 14 did not reach out the VA for assistance in the two years beforehand.
In an effort to ensure we are reaching vulnerable veterans, I will continue fighting for the bipartisan IMPROVE Act, legislation introduced by Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) and Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Penn.). The original version of this bill would expand services aimed at preventing veteran suicide by extending grants to community entities that provide and coordinate suicide prevention services to veterans and their families.
It is absolutely critical in rural areas like mine that we pull in community partners to help be part of the solution for at-risk veterans. Last month, I welcomed Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen with the President’s PREVENTS Task Force – an executive task force aimed at ending veteran suicide – to East Tennessee, which reaffirmed ending this crisis requires a community-wide approach. The IMPROVE Act seeks to accomplish this goal and I am hopeful this legislation will reach the President’s desk this year.
Our committee has also been conducting vigorous oversight on several transformative pieces of legislation we implemented over the last couple of years, including the Forever GI Bill, the MISSION Act and the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act. For example, the VA Benefits Administration began processing claims for veterans who served honorably in the offshore waters of Vietnam with benefits related to Agent Orange exposure under the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act on January 1, and it is key for us to monitor the progress of this process to ensure its success.
Similarly, we should also work on legislation authorizing research into the causes of chronic conditions in veterans following the exposure of toxic chemicals, such as those from burn pits. Research will be key to determining any connection between burn pits and many serious health conditions, and it will help prevent another Blue Water Navy fiasco leaving veterans waiting for decades to receive benefits. Performing extensive research to find a connection can help prevent future exposure and improve treatment and diagnosis.
In light of a recent court ruling that called the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act into question, I also believe it’s high time for us to develop a bipartisan, patient-centered health care plan that lowers costs, ensures access, and improves quality. In June, a federal district court ruled the ACA’s individual mandate was unconstitutional, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed that ruling.
The individual mandate was enacted as the key mechanism in the ACA to compel people to either purchase insurance or be taxed. The ruling confirms that Americans should not be forced to buy a product they can’t afford – or don’t want. However, no one wants patients to be caught in the crossfire. Democrats need to work with Republicans on comprehensive legislation that puts patients and their doctors back in charge of health care. As the co-chair of the GOP Doctors Caucus, I am ready to work with my colleagues to do just that.
I will continue working hard on behalf of East Tennesseans and our nation’s veterans this year and I look forward to future successes.