This month, I’ve been privileged to meet with East Tennesseans and listen to their ideas and concerns. I met with leaders from different groups in our communities including: housing officials, volunteer firefighters, women business leaders, students, educators, veterans, doctors, pastors, state legislators, county and city officials, national forest rangers, community health clinics, manufacturers and pharmacists – just to name a few.
It’s always remarkable to me how many talented individuals we have in East Tennessee, and how many good ideas there are about how to make America stronger.
I believe one of my most important jobs is to promote economic development and job creation. In listening to business leaders about how to accomplish this, many said employee retention is still an issue in our community. For some companies, like those in the manufacturing industry, the opioid epidemic is still affecting their ability to hire and retain employees. Many small businesses also are concerned about the impact tariffs are having on their businesses.
We should fight against unfair trade practices from countries like China, who have gamed our trade rules for too long, but we must be careful not to harm American workers in the process. The United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement, which President Trump negotiated to improve American standing in NAFTA, is something that may help in this regard.
Health care was also a pressing topic in many of these conversations. I had the opportunity to visit community health centers in Newport and Kingsport to learn more about the work they’re doing to fill a critical gap in our health care system by providing health care to many who can’t afford Obamacare-compliant health insurance.
It was great to see the work they do first-hand. I have long supported funding through our appropriations bills and budget agreements that ensure CHCs have the resources they need to continue doing great work in our rural communities, and my visit reaffirmed the importance of supporting these institutions.
Drug pricing is another major concern on people’s minds, and I was able to discuss this issue with those in the best position to help patients afford drugs they need: community pharmacists. Many constituents with chronic diseases – like diabetes or cardiovascular disease – struggle to afford their medication.
As a physician, I understand the stress that the cost of prescription drugs places on patients, and since leaving practice I have seen dramatic increases in the cost of not just new medicine but generic medication as well. This is a serious challenge.
During this meeting, one of the topics we discussed is how direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) fees are preventing some pharmacies from providing service to their customers. This June, I joined 104 representatives in writing to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) expressing disappointment they did not propose DIR fee reform.
Until this happens, small pharmacies will continue being subjected to monetary clawbacks on the sale of prescription drugs, making it harder for them to stay in business.
Another issue we need to continue addressing is homelessness, particularly among our veteran population. I met with regional housing officials to discuss the availability of affordable housing and how to better reach those in need.
One takeaway I had was to focus on continuing to improve the coordination between the VA and housing officials to ensure our veterans population is taken care of, and I plan to continue meeting with folks to improve this process.
As Ranking Member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I’ve long said that we need to review our homelessness programs to ensure these programs are successful in helping veterans transition to sustainable housing, and I will continue to push on this front.
I also had the honor of hosting U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette in Erwin, Tennessee. During his visit, we toured Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) to learn more about their manufacturing process, their nuclear technologies, and their ability to help our country meet the energy needs of tomorrow.
It’s amazing to know that in our backyard, over 1,000 people are working to provide critical services to fuel our nation’s naval reactors and defense industry. NFS downblends highly enriched uranium to power our submarines and aircraft carriers, while providing the essential research materials for the future of American clean energy.
I am grateful for all the good thoughts and constructive feedback I have heard, and I will keep your ideas and concerns in mind when I am voting in Washington D.C.