Kansas Common Sense
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Honoring Our Nation’s Fallen and Living Heroes on Memorial Day
Resthaven Memorial Day Celebration
Yesterday, I joined veterans and local residents at the 56th Annual Resthaven Memorial Day Ceremony in Wichita. Since the Civil War, Americans have gathered each year to remember those courageous men and women who answered the call to serve. We gather together to remind our children and grandchildren that because of the sacrifices of our nation’s veterans, we have the opportunity to live in the strongest, freest and greatest nation in the world. Today, our nation’s young men and women are still risking their lives for the sake of others and fighting for the principles we hold most dear – freedom and justice.
As citizens, we have a duty to preserve those freedoms and liberties that generations of Americans gave their lives to establish and protect. Let us commit our lives to preserving this nation for the sake of the next generation – so they too can pursue the American Dream. Special thanks to Resthaven General Manager Mark Hansen for his invitation to participate in the special event. Click here to read about the ceremony in The Wichita Eagle.
Visiting Veterans at Dole VA Medical Center
Following the ceremony, I visited veterans at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center. It was an honor to express on behalf of Kansans our gratitude to these veterans in-person. Our freedoms are made possible because of their service and sacrifice. Thank you to Dole VA Medical Center Director Francisco Vazquez for meeting with me and Diane Henderson for coordinating my visit. Here, I’m pictured with WII Army Veteran and Ellsworth native Leon Setter.
Working to Improve VA Health Care
While I believe a change in leadership at the Department of Veterans Affairs will jumpstart reforming the broken VA system, there are a number of changes that could be made right now to make certain the VA health care system is the best our country has to offer. I hear from Kansans on a daily basis who are suffering and losing hope in a system that was created to serve them. One example is Jack Cobos of Topeka who sought emergency care for chest pains at Topeka’s Colmery-O’Neil VA Medical Center, and was told the pain was from the muscles around his heart, not a heart attack. Less than a week later, Jack sought emergency care at a community hospital where severe blockages that caused back-to-back heart attacks were corrected. Unfortunately, Jack never fully recovered and passed away on January 17, 2013. Jack’s story is terribly sad, and worse yet we continue to hear about veterans just like him who under VA treatment either suffered or died from neglect. Another example is veterans in Western Kansas who have been waiting nearly three years for the Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Liberal to hire a full-time primary care physician. I have inquired with the VA and heard numerous promises that they are “close” to hiring a provider.
What veterans and their families are experiencing today is an unaccountable bureaucracy that focuses more on the performance of their employees than the quality and satisfaction of the veterans they are supposed to be serving. I have suggested breaking down this bureaucratic process by basing metrics and performance on veteran satisfaction. For example, we should ask veterans themselves if they are satisfied with their care and how long they waited for appointments or treatment. The information used to assess the VA and its operations should be based on veterans’ feedback. I intend to further these suggestions in discussions with my colleagues in the Senate. Click here to see me speak about this issue at the Republican Leadership press conference.
Taking Action to Support Veterans
As the instances of dysfunction and lack of leadership at the VA continue to mount, we do not need more damage control – we need to eliminate the damage being done to our nation’s veterans. On Thursday, I took action to hold the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) accountable during the Senate Appropriations Committee mark-up of the Fiscal Year 2015 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. I was pleased the Subcommittee included bill language that expands and extends Project ARCH (Access Received Closer to Home) beyond its pilot-phase expiration in September 2014, making certain it is appropriated in FY2015 at $35 million. The ARCH pilot program is vital to rural veterans who should be able to eliminate the burden of travel and access to care through their community providers. Programs like ARCH that offer access to veterans seeking treatment are precisely the ways we need to combat unacceptable wait times and delay in quality heath care.
Additionally, the Senate Appropriations Committee included my amendment with Senator Jon Tester of Montana to force the release of reports by the VA Office of the Medical Inspector (OMI) on their investigations into wrongdoing at VA facilities. For example, the same Cheyenne VA Medical Center under fire for wait-list manipulation after a whistleblower leaked an email shedding light on the violations being committed was already the subject of an Office of the Medical Inspector report in December 2013. That report already investigated and substantiated claims of improper scheduling practices but it was not publicly released. I believe there could be more reports about the quality of health care at VA facilities, which is why my amendment requires the VA to share those findings from the last four years and detail any legal or administrative action taken against employees identified in these investigations. The release of these reports will allow Americans, Congress and veterans to see what the VA knew, when they knew it and what they did about it.
I was also pleased to offer an amendment focused on leadership that was unanimously supported by the Appropriations Committee. The amendment is similar to the U.S. House of Representatives VA Management Accountability Act of 2014, which passed on Wednesday by a vote of 390 to 33 and gives the VA Secretary greater authority to fire or demote senior employees based on performance. I am pleased that my Senate colleagues unanimously voted in favor of this call to action to make certain VA personnel are held accountable. These legislative actions are important steps toward resolving the problems at the VA so that veterans have a Department of Veterans Affairs worthy of their service. Click here to see me discuss this issue on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd.
Demanding HHS Accountability, Honesty Regarding ACA Exchange Subsidies
On Thursday, Senator Mike Johanns of Nebraska and I asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to clarify how it will make certain taxpayer dollars are protected from waste and abuse when allocating subsidy payments through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance Exchanges. A May 2014 Washington Post article indicates “the government may be paying incorrect subsidies to more than one million Americans for their health plans” through these Exchanges. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the federal government will provide more than $1 trillion in Exchange subsidies and related spending from 2015 to 2024. As Ranking Members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittees that oversee HHS and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) spending, Senator Johanns and I are very concerned that these costly provisions are failing to protect taxpayer dollars from waste and abuse.
Last July, the Obama Administration rescinded an ACA requirement that Exchanges verify consumers’ incomes and indicated the government would “accept the applicant’s attestation [regarding eligibility] without further verification.” This action was astounding because it allowed HHS to provide billions of dollars in subsidies to millions of Americans under nothing more than an “honor system.” In response, we included legislative language passed by Congress last October that required the HHS to verify the eligibility of individuals receiving tax credits and cost-sharing reductions on the ACA Exchanges. On January 1, 2014, Secretary Sebelius confirmed that HHS had implemented the systems to carry out income verifications. This is contradictory to the content of the recent media report which indicates that HHS’ capability to verify individuals’ income “does not exist.” The report states that, “potentially hundreds of thousands of people are receiving bigger subsidies than they deserve” and that the Administration “has been unable so far to fix the errors.”
Americans are frustrated with HHS’ apparent lack of concern in implementing the ACA in a timely and cost effective manner. Since the roll out began, there has been one delay after another, huge cost overruns, and a general lack of transparency about where American taxpayer dollars are being spent. We have now learned that millions are being spent on incorrect subsidies — this is unacceptable. I will continue to demand accountability and transparency from the Administration so taxpayers are not on the hook for yet another Obamacare disaster. Click here to learn more about this issue and to read the letter Senator Johanns and I sent to Secretary Sebelius.
Proposed New Post Office in Reading
The town of Reading received some long-awaited news this week when the United States Postal Service informed Mayor Kevin Sorensen that a proposal has been made to seek 700 square feet of space to reopen a community post office. This news comes three years after Reading was hit by an EF3 tornado, devastating homes and businesses—including the community’s post office. I brought this up during a 2011 Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing. Recently, I spoke with USPS Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and I am pleased the Postal Service intends to reopen a post office for residents that have endeavored to rebuild and reestablish their community.
Northeast Johnson County Chamber
On my way back to Washington, D.C. last week, I stopped at the Northeast Johnson County Chamber of Commerce’s “We’re Talkin’ Tuesday” event at Mainstreet Credit Union. The bimonthly meeting gives chamber members an opportunity to network with other local businesses, and I enjoyed learning more about a number of Northeast Johnson County businesses. Thanks to Northeast Johnson County Chamber President and CEO Deb Settle for hosting me.
Visiting Hospitals in Overland Park and Junction City
It is very useful for me to visit Kansas hospitals and talk with health care providers to learn more about how they utilize resources to care for their communities. My discussions with Kansas hospital administrators and staff cover a variety of topics. Almost every visit involves discussions about the ever increasing federal regulatory burdens hospitals face as they work to provide quality health care services to their local residents.
Saint Luke’s South Hospital
On Monday, I visited Saint Luke's South Hospital in Overland Park. Saint Luke’s South is 125-bed acute care hospital features 24-hour emergency services, complete inpatient and outpatient diagnostic testing, a maternity unit with neonatal intensive care, and inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation services. The hospital has been recognized as a U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospital for 2013-14. My visit included a tour of the hospital’s specialized Hip & Knee Center, which focuses on providing total joint replacement care that leads to faster recovery, lower complication rates, and better overall health outcomes. Thanks to President and CEO Jani Johnson (pictured here) and Government and Community Relations Director Jennifer Bruning for the informational tour.
Geary Community Hospital
On Friday, I traveled to Junction City to visit with hospital administrators and medical staff at Geary Community Hospital (GCH). GCH is a 92-bed hospital offering patients a wide range of health services, including acute care, surgical, therapy, laboratory and specialty care. The hospital also operates an extended-hours rural health clinic at the hospital, as well as a family medical clinic in Chapman. GCH also offers home health, hospice and home medical equipment services.
During my visit, we discussed concerns with cooperation with Department of Defense on facilities and unnecessarily burdensome and flawed Medicare audit regulations. Kansas hospitals have been forced to divert significant resources away from caring for patients to appeal incorrect audit decisions that are ultimately overturned through the appeal process. This broken Medicare audit program places an unreasonable burden on providers, and has created a two-year appeals backlog within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Too often, federal policies fail to take into account the realities of delivering health care in Kansas communities. It is important that the federal government understands the impact of these rules and regulations on the financial well-being of Kansas hospitals, and the potential they have for significantly disrupting patient access to important health care services. Thanks to GCH CEO Joe Stratton for hosting my visit. Here, I'm pictured with Geary Community Hospital Chief Radiologist Pat Landes who also serves on Junction City Commission.
Touring Quintiles in Overland Park
This week, I visited Quintiles in Overland Park to see the clinical research organization’s second largest location in the United States. This facility has 1,000 employees who conduct about 40 clinical drug trials a year involving 1,500 trial volunteers. These drug trials are an essential step in the development of new treatments for patients. Thanks to Quintiles Vice President Dr. Mary Westrick and Government & Public Affairs Director Rachael Tarleton Fones for the invitation to visit and for hosting my tour.
On Monday, I visited Durrie Vision, an internationally recognized and cutting-edge refractive surgery practice located in Overland Park. Dr. Dan Durrie, the practice’s founder, and I discussed legislation relating to medical research and innovation in the U.S. We also discussed the good things happening in the Kansas City area and what can be done to continue to promote economic development on our region. Thanks to Dr. Durrie, Dr. Stahl, and Harry Campbell, CEO, for visiting with me.
Tortoise Capital Advisors
On Monday, I also had the opportunity to have a roundtable discussion with the senior leadership and department heads of Tortoise Capital Advisors in Leawood. We visited about a number of topics including energy policy, the Keystone Pipeline and Senate rules and procedure. I appreciate Terry Matlack hosting me and providing me with the chance to learn about the issues that are important to him, his team and their business.
Kansas Listening Tour Stop in Ellsworth County
Over the weekend, I continued my Kansas Listening Tour in Ellsworth County. Nearly 45 area residents turned out to the Wilson Senior Center to share feedback and concerns on a wide array of topics including veterans’ healthcare, federal regulations, agriculture, the EPA, community pharmacies and how to keep Main Street alive and well. Thanks to Senior Center Administrator Sharon Holloway for making the facility available. Thanks also to Wilson Telephone President Brian Boisvert and Wilson City Clerk Susan Kriley for helping promote my visit throughout the community. Here, I'm pictured with Seitz Drug Owner Terry Kepka.
Visiting with Christian Legal Aid Volunteers
This week, I had the opportunity to speak with volunteers who work with the DC chapter of Christian Legal Aid (CLADC). This Christian nonprofit provides free or reduced-cost legal services to low-income individuals, families and non-profit organizations from a faith-based perspective. What was impressive to me is that this organization is almost entirely run by volunteers. Utilizing a network of volunteer attorneys, law students and others, CLADC organizes monthly legal clinics at various locations around Washington, D.C. to offer help to those in need. Thanks to Brandon Smith for the opportunity to visit with local volunteers.
May is Beef Month in Kansas
In Kansas, May is Beef Month and a time to celebrate Kansas cattle producers and the high-quality beef that Kansas is known for across the globe. Beef is vital to Kansas' economy, and our state ranks third nationally with 5.8 million cattle on ranches and feed yards. Learn more about Beef Month at kansasbeef.org.
Judge Robert Nugent of Wichita
Kansas National Guard
Major General Tafanelli of Topeka
Kansas Dental Association
Wayne Thompson of Shawnee
Greg Peppes of Leawood
Brett Roufs of Newton
Kevin Robertson of Topeka
Joyce Thompson of Shawnee
Kansas Rural Letter Carriers
Tony Kruse of Wellington
Bob Penn of Paola
Eric Everett of Mission
Jan Gerber of Andover
Bonnie Siegel of Leawood
Miriam Glueck of Leawood
Kathi Rosenberg of Overland Park
Kansas Health Information Network
Laura McCrary of Topeka
Families Against Mandatory Minimums
Peter Ninemire of Wichita
National Air Traffic Controllers Association
Aaron Merrick of Olathe
Connie Presley of Wichita
American College of Emergency Physicians
Sabina Braithwaite of Wichita
Alliance for Nuclear Accountability
Ann Suellentrop of Kansas City
Mark Jorgenson of Overland Park
John Elmore of Lawrence
Management and Training Corporation
Celeste McDonald of Manhattan
David Broadbent of Manhattan
Golf Superintendents Association of America
Matt Shatto of Lawrence
J.D. Dockstader Lawrence
Kansas Health Care Association/Kansas Center for Assisted Living
Linda Mowbray of Topeka
Joe Perkin of Topeka
Fred Benjamin of Coffeyville
National Association of Insurance & Financial Advisors
Rebecca Gorrell of Overland Park
Rhonda Knudson of Great Bend
Laci Leatherman of Wichita
Gene Warren of Manhattan
Glenda DuBoise of Topeka
Monte Abell of Phillipsburg
Michael Chisam of Lyons
Tom Willis of Liberal
Jeffrey Oestman of Garnett
Ed Condon of Lenexa
John Bush of Sterling
Community Development Financial Institutions
Pat Michaels of Topeka
Cathy Dolan of Shawnee Mission
Kansas Chamber of Commerce
Mike O’Neal of Lawrence
Christie Kriegshauser of Topeka
Justin Hill of Lawrence
Bill Pickert of Wichita
Michael Monteferrante of Wichita
Christine Macy of Topeka
Marcia Dvorak of Kansas City
Pamela Watkins of Kansas City
Rachel Willis of Lawrence
American College of Physicians
Donna Sweet of Wichita
Segen Chase of Manhattan
Diego Lin of Kansas City
Petroleum Marketers Association of America
Gratz Peters of Parsons
Dave Achten of Overland Park
Scott Zamreba of Lawrence
Marvin Spees of Topeka
Tom Palace of Topeka
Highway 69 Association
Blake Benson of Pittsburg
Ken Brock of Pittsburg
Daron Hall of Pittsburg
Mayor Monica Murnan of Pittsburg
Shawn Naccarato of Pittsburg
International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists
Eric Everett of Mission
Jan Gerber of Wichita
Jessie Manning of Manhattan
Linda Manning of Oakley
Mackenzie Ritter of Oakley
Katelyn Muehlberger of Leawood
Honored to Serve You in Washington
It is an honor to serve you in Washington, D.C. Thank you to the many Kansans who have been calling and writing in to share their thoughts and opinions on the issues our state and country face. I appreciate the words of Kansans, whether in the form of a form of letter, a Facebook comment or a phone call, who wish to make their voice heard.
Very truly yours,
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