Kansas Common Sense
May 04 2020
Welcome to “Kansas Common Sense.” Thanks for your continued interest in receiving my weekly newsletter. Please feel free to forward it on to your family and friends if it would interest them.
Coronavirus Update: Protecting Our Food Supply
Please take precautions to keep you and your families safe, and please call your primary care physician if you are experiencing symptoms related to the coronavirus. It is important as individuals we each take a personal responsibility to stop the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve, including washing our hands regularly, avoiding touching our face, sneeze or cough into a tissue or the inside of our elbow and disinfecting frequently used items and surfaces as much as possible.
In the midst of this pandemic, I realize that our economy will only recover once we address the issue of people’s health. I am supportive of widespread testing efforts so that Kansans can feel secure in their health and we can begin to look forward towards economic recovery.
Last week, Governor Laura Kelly announced “Ad Astra: A Plan to Reopen Kansas”. For full details on this plan, click here.
Protecting our Food Supply and Meatpacking Plants
It is important that we keep our food supply chain healthy and running during COVID-19. The first priority must be to make certain our front-line workers are safe and that there is sufficient PPE and testing for meatpacking plants to ensure all workers are protected.
I have recently spoken with President Trump about the need to keep meatpacking plants open, especially in Kansas where over a quarter of beef processing capacity for the country is located. This week, President Trump used his authority under the Defense Production Act to designate meat processing plants as critical infrastructure to help keep meatpacking facilities open. I applaud his leadership to act quickly to support the food supply chain during this outbreak.
I will continue to work to ensure that meat processors maintain operations in a manner that safeguards employees while maintaining the availability of food for Americans. Watch here as I speak about the importance of Kansas meatpacking plants with Neil Cavuto on Fox Business.
Joining The University of Kansas Health System Media Update
On Friday morning, I joined The University of Kansas Health System (TUKH) for a media update with Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment Dr. Lee Norman. We discussed reopening the economy in Kansas, the success of the Paycheck Protection Program in helping small businesses keep employees on their payroll and the Senate’s return to Washington, D.C.
The University of Kansas Health System’s Medical Director for Infection Prevention and Control Dr. Dana Hawkinson and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steve Stites also participated in the media update. To watch the full media update, please click here.
Joining Goddard High School’s Government Class
I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with Jacob Holle’s honors government class at Goddard High School over a video conference call last week. I appreciated the students asking thoughtful questions about what it’s like to be a Senator, why our national debt matters and how our government works. They also shared with me how they are handling COVID-19 and the disappointment of missing out on so many of the important senior-year activities that we often take for granted. They are a bright group of students, and I know they will achieve great success in whatever they choose to pursue.
Participating in Wamego Middle School’s History Class
I enjoyed participating in an 8th-grade history class at Wamego Middle School Friday over a video conference call. We discussed the U.S. Senate, how I got my start in public service, and how students are coping with the COVID-19 situation and learning from home. I was reminded again how tough and determined Kansas students are, and I want to send a special thank you to Adam Topliff and all the teachers like him that are continuing to educate our children during this pandemic.
Making Certain Audio-Only Telehealth Services Are Reimbursed Equally
This week, I led an effort with 40 of my Senate colleagues to urge CMS to increase reimbursement for audio-only telehealth services. I am pleased that the CMS has announced that they will make this change immediately, so our providers utilizing audio-only health visits during the COVID-19 pandemic will be reimbursed at rates that allow them to continue to provide necessary care for their patients.
Many Americans do not have access to reliable broadband, making it nearly impossible to use video-sharing to receive telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, they must turn to telephone-based telehealth services. However, health care professionals who provide these services have not received the same reimbursement for their telephone-based consultations as they would for visual or in-person consultations.
As COVID-19 continues to spread in communities across the country, millions of people are following directives to stay home and avoid risking exposure to the virus. In conjunction with those directives, health care providers have shifted to offering audio-visual telehealth services to patients, so that patients can receive evaluations, medical consultations, checkups and other services in their own homes, instead of risking exposure at a health care facility.
CMS’ agreement to this policy change is a positive development for many of our rural providers who must utilize this method to care for patients with limited broadband access.
What They’re Saying: “For geriatrics health professionals, telehealth has emerged as an invaluable tool for ensuring that older Americans have access to the care they need,” said American Geriatrics Society Chief Executive Officer Nancy Lundebjerg, MPA. “One challenge has been how best to care for older adults, many of whom are not comfortable with or do not have resources like smartphones or are uncomfortable operating audio/video-capable software and mobile applications. This change from CMS will help ensure that medically complex older adults will have access to their clinicians using familiar technology.”
Paycheck Protection Program Update
With the funds Congress provided to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program in the Phase 3.5 Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, an additional 18,470 loans have been approved for Kansas, totaling $815 million. This means more small businesses are able to keep their lights on and more Kansans are being kept on payroll.
This is in addition to the more than 26,000 loans approved for Kansas by the original resources provided to the PPP under the CARES Act, totaling $4.28 billion. The PPP is working in Kansas and is having a real impact on jobs and families. For example, the Cosmosphere in Hutchison received a PPP loan which is allowing them to keep employees on payroll while the building is closed and provide an innovative virtual experience for families during COVID-19.
Bill for Student Veterans Signed Into Law
This week, President Trump signed into law, H.R. 6322, the Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020. This bill was the House companion to the bill that I introduced earlier this month with Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.). This legislation is the second GI Bill fix that we have passed into law in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. This bill is a win for student veterans and their beneficiaries and will ensure that they continue receiving certain education and training benefits, including housing and work payments, from the Department of Veterans Affairs that would be reduced or halted due to programs unable to continue during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Connecting with Kansans
This week, I joined Ron Thomas and Chuck Samples on KVOE in Emporia, Ellen Schenk and Will Sterrett on KMBZ in Kansas City, Dave Lewis and Brandon Peoples on KMAN in Manhattan and Clinton Griffiths on AgriTalk to discuss reopening the economy, widespread testing, meatpacking plants and the Senate returning to Washington D.C. I also sat down – at a safe social distance - with Lacey Williams with KAKE, Craig Andres with KSNW and Jacob Albracht with KWCH.
Kansas Hospitals Receive Additional Support
Kansas hospitals will receive $62 million in the second round of funding from the CARES Act to help support their work in providing care for COVID-19 patients as well as other life-saving medical services. Our hospitals are working round the clock to make sure patients are treated and are taking every precaution to stop the spread of this virus. This funding will help provide the resources they need to carry on their critical work.
In addition, Kansas hospitals will be receiving $400 million from the Provider Relief Fund established under the CARES Act. $382 million will be distributed to over 200 rural providers throughout Kansas, with the remaining $18 million allotted to hospitals with high COVID-19 admissions.
Hospitals across Kansas are hurting financially due to COVID-19, some because of the number of cases they are treating and others because they are having to cancel non-emergency procedures and surgeries to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Our hospital and health care providers are on the frontline of this pandemic, and these grants will help provide them with resources to continue fighting this pandemic and keep their doors open to help patients when this crisis has passed.
Discussing Testing and PPE with the FDA Commissioner
On Friday, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Related Agencies held a tele-briefing with the FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn. Commissioner Hahn provided an update on the FDA’s COVID-19 response efforts, and we discussed the safety of our food supply chain, the need for dramatically expanded testing capabilities and expressed the need to ensure the quality of foreign-sourced PPE. I brought up the need for more resources, like testing and PPE, in Kansas, and requested more information on private sector vendors producing PPE.
Wichita’s Eisenhower Airport Receives AIP Grant
On Wednesday, I announced a $5.5 million grant awarded for the reconstruction of an airport apron – the area of the tarmac where aircraft are parked, refueled, loaded and boarded - at Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport in Wichita. This grant, awarded through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Airport Improvement Program, will help Eisenhower airport to update and improve the area surrounding the terminal, ultimately increasing the airport’s efficiency. These resources will not only provide improvements to the largest airport in our state, but the infrastructure spending will support jobs in the area.
While I continue to monitor the global impact of COVID-19 on air travel, this grant will provide vital improvements to the largest airport in the state, ensuring safe and efficient travel to and from Wichita once this crisis has passed. This announcement follows the recent $11.3 million awarded to Eisenhower airport through CARES Act funding in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Supporting the Care of Servicemember Children
Earlier this month I heard from a servicemember in the Kansas National Guard whose son is having trouble accessing Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) care due to the COVID-19 crisis. This soldier’s son relies on TRICARE-provided ABA therapy that is provided in a brick-and-mortar facility. Unfortunately, stay-at-home orders limited his child’s ability to travel to his caregiver and receive the care he requires.
The Defense Health Agency, which administers TRICARE, has taken a step in the right direction by allowing parents to speak directly with Board Certified Behavioral Analysts to learn about best practices, but I remain concerned that this is not enough. Behavioral and mental health care should never be denied to anyone because of an outdated policy or an unprecedented circumstance, like COVID-19. As such, I wrote a letter to Lieutenant General Ronald Place, the Director of the Defense Health Agency, asking him to review ABA telehealth access standards during this crisis and expand them so the children of TRICARE beneficiaries can receive the care they depend on. We are living in uncertain times, and extraordinary measures must be taken to provide for the quality and timely care of our servicemembers and their children.
Speaking with HHS Secretary Alex Azar
This week, I joined many of my colleagues in the House and Senate on a call with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to discuss rural assistance provided through the CARES Act. We also discussed the future needs of our rural providers that need to be addressed for them to survive through the difficulties of this pandemic in order to continue providing care to our communities. The topics ranged from assistance, to testing and contact tracing, as well as how the federal government is coordinating with states on relief efforts. I visited with Secretary Azar regarding additional increases for telehealth for rural providers. I am grateful to Secretary Azar for taking time to have this discussion during such a busy time for HHS as they respond to COVID-19.
Connecting with the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce
On Thursday afternoon, I joined the Greater Kansas City Chamber and several chamber member businesses and other small business leaders to discuss the government’s response to COVID-19. Our discussion focused on health care and the importance of testing as well as the PPP and Congress’s additional funding to the program. Thank you to Chamber President Joe Reardon for the kind invitation and for moderating our informative conversation.
Speaking with Ark City Leaders
On Saturday morning, I hosted a video conference call with Arkansas City leaders. Our discussion helped provide me with an update on how their community has been impacted by COVID-19. I have worked closely with the South Central Kansas Medical Center during the pandemic to make certain they were eligible for relief opportunities, and I appreciated hospital CEO Jeff Bowman for joining our conversation to provide an update. Having local business leaders, health care professionals and educators on our call delivered important updates that help guide my efforts for Kansas. Thank you to the Ark City community, including Kansas Senator Larry Alley, Union State Bank Chairman Bill Docking, Cowley College President Dennis Rittle and Cowley County Public Health Officer Tom Langer and Cowley County Health Center CEO David Brazil, for taking time away from family to have this important discussion.
Kansas Health Care Hero
This week’s Kansas Health Care Hero is registered nurse Tracy Surber of Erie. She made the decision to join the staff at Brooklyn Methodist Hospital in New York for two months. She has communicated what she is experiencing to people back home through social media to educate about the virus.
Read more about this week’s Kansas Health Care Hero, Tracey, here in the Parsons Sun.
COVID Care Force: A Call for Health Care Professional Volunteers
I recently spoke with Dr. Gary Morsch, a Kansas City native and the the founder of Heart to Heart International and Docs Who Care. Dr. Morsch was about to take on the night shift for the next three nights in an emergency room of a Trauma-1 hospital in Queens. He shared with me that they have 80 to 90 ambulances that arrive each day and night with patients who have COVID-19, which reminded him of his experience on combat tours as a Battalion Surgeon. He noted that the entire hospital is essentially an ICU.
When the news broke about an outbreak of COVID-19, Dr. Morsch founded the “COVID Care Force” to mobilize hundreds of health care professionals to fight back against COVID-19. Dr. Morsch told me that now is the time for “All-hands-on-deck” and that we must “raise up a great force of volunteer healthcare professionals” to deploy to hotspots or areas of critical need because of healthcare staffing shortages. The mission of this force will be to serve wherever the need is greatest, whether that is in urban areas, community hospitals, or right here in the Midwest.
Dr. Morsch asked me if I would share his mission and do everything I could to help recruit health care professionals who are willing to serve during this pandemic. Please click here to receive more information on volunteer opportunities.
Thank you to Dr. Morsch and all of the healthcare professionals and volunteers who are already putting their own lives and health at risk to protect and help others.
Calling for Kansas WWI Veteran and GI Bill Author to Be Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom
As Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) I urged President Trump this week, along with a bipartisan group of my SVAC colleagues, to posthumously award Harry W. Colmery – a Kansan, WWI veteran and the father of the G.I. bill – with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Mr. Colmery was WWI veteran, former American Legion National Commander, and Topeka lawyer who was concerned that WWII veterans would face similar hardships that his fellow WWI veterans had faced upon returning to civilian life. Driven by this concern, Mr. Colmery developed legislation to help returning servicemembers find jobs, enroll in school and receive loans. This effort culminated with Mr. Colmery witnessing President Franklin D. Roosevelt sign the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, legislation for which Mr. Colmery was the chief architect.
As a testament to Mr. Colmery’s work to improve the lives of his fellow veterans, in 2017 President Trump signed into law the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, also known as the “Forever GI Bill”, which significantly expanded education and training programs for the benefit of veterans and their families. I was glad to have my SVAC colleagues join me in rightfully honoring Mr. Colmery’s legacy with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
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 letter, a Facebook comment, or a phone call, who wish to make their voice heard.
Please let me know how I can be of assistance. You can contact me by email by clicking here. You can also click here to contact me through one of my Kansas offices or my Washington, D.C., office.
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