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WASHINGTON, DC — Summer has not found Newtown’s federal delegation — US Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty — taking a lot of time off. The lawmakers have been involved promoting and supporting a number of initiatives that could have direct impact on residents of Newtown.
On July 31, National Heatstroke Prevention Day, Sens Blumenthal and Al Franken (D-Minn.) announced the introduction of the Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seat Act (HOT CARS Act) to help prevent heatstroke deaths of children trapped in hot cars.
“A simple sensor could save the lives of dozens of children killed tragically in overheated cars each year, and my bill would ensure such technology is available in every car sold in the United States. It can take mere minutes on a hot day for a car to turn into a deathtrap for a small child. This basic technology, combined with public awareness and vigilance, can help prevent these catastrophes and safe lives,” Sen Blumenthal said.
On average, 37 children die each year trapped in overheated cars in the United States, and more than 700 have died nationwide since 1998. Specifically, the bill directs the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require cars come equipped with technology to alert the driver to check the back seat when the car is turned off.
The bill also requires NHTSA to contract with an independent third-party to study options for retrofitting existing vehicles to address the problem of children being unintentionally left behind in vehicles. This study would provide recommendations to manufacturers to make sure products perform as intended; and to consumers on how to select the right technology.
The following day, Sens Blumenthal and Murphy joined Rep Esty and her colleagues Representatives Rosa DeLauro (CT-3), John Larson (CT-1), and Joe Courtney (CT-2) highlighting a $300,000 grant to the Wheeler Clinic from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office on Women’s Health.
The funding — $100,000 per year for three years — will support the Connecticut Opioid Misuse Prevention (COMP) Initiative and expand in-person and online training for up to 4,500 prevention professionals, pediatric care primary providers and professionals who work or volunteer with adolescent girls.
With more than 30 locations across the state, the Wheeler Clinic provides primary care and behavioral health services for more than 30,000 individuals in Connecticut each year.
Negotiating Prescription Costs
On August 2, Sens Blumenthal and Murphy joined a coalition of 30 senate colleagues introducing legislation to unleash the bargaining power of seniors for a better deal on prescription drug costs. Current law only allows for bargaining by pharmaceutical companies and bans Medicare from doing so.
“This reform is long overdue, enabling Medicare to negotiate lower prices, with savings for taxpayers and likely patients at drug counters,” Sen Blumenthal said. “The uncontrolled explosion in pharmaceutical drug pricing is crippling patients and our national economy. Whether it is 5,000 percent price increases for decades-old, off-patent drugs, or 300 percent increases for a simple workhorse medical supplies like saline, Congress must act. This simple measure is a first step toward comprehensive action required to correct this crisis.”
Sen Murphy added, “It make absolutely no sense to prohibit the federal government from negotiating directly with drug companies for lower prices. The drug industry is very powerful in Washington, but their vice grip on health care policy has to end. Allowing the federal government to negotiate for lower prices will save taxpayers billions and result in big savings for consumers. It’s a no-brainer.”
The legislation would allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to directly negotiate with drug companies for price discounts for the Medicare Prescription Drug Program, eliminating the “noninterference” clause that expressly bans Medicare from negotiating for the best possible prices.
By harnessing the bargaining power of nearly 41 million seniors, Medicare could negotiate bigger discounts than pharmaceutical companies.
The following day, Sen Blumenthal, who is a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, wrote to United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin expressing deep concern with a VA Office of Inspector General report that found veterans receiving non-VA health care through the Veterans Choice Program face significant risks related to opioid prescribing practices.
In spite of initiatives implemented in 2014 that sought to improve safety and management of chronic pain in veterans, the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General revealed veterans prescribed opioid-based medications by non-VA providers face significant risk for serious medication interaction and unintentional or intentional overdose.
These risks were especially acute among veterans receiving treatment outside of VA facilities through the Veterans Choice Program due to inadequate medical data sharing between VA facilities and non-VA facilities.
“The VAOIG report demonstrated that currently, adequate patient monitoring does not exist for opioid prescriptions written and filled outside of the VA system, unless a non-VA provider or the patient makes the effort to notify VA or the VA provider routinely accesses the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. These information gaps endanger our veteran patients and must be effectively remedied,” wrote Sen Blumenthal.
Crimes Targeting Seniors
On August 4, Sen Blumenthal recognized the passage of the bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act, which passed the US Senate the previous Tuesday.
The bill, introduced by Sens Blumenthal and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), will help reduce crimes against America’s seniors through expanded education, prevention, and prosecution tools. According to the bipartisan, 3,000-member Elder Justice Coalition, the bill is “one of the most comprehensive and meaningful bills ever developed to address the rapidly increasing problem of elder financial abuse in America.”
The Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act includes provisions named after Robert Matava, a Connecticut World War II veteran who was a victim of financial exploitation.
“Our bipartisan legislation will help prevent the utterly unconscionable scourge of elder abuse and hold its shameful perpetrators accountable,” Sen Blumenthal said. “Far too many seniors in our country are abused or exploited by the very people who are supposed to care for them. This issue hit home in Connecticut with the tragic case of Purple Heart recipient Robert Matava. A national hero, he deserved the best care during his golden years. Instead, he was defrauded and left penniless by those he trusted most. Abuse of our country’s elders is too often overlooked, and we must do everything in our power to ensure their financial security and physical safety.”
That same day, Sen Murphy, who is a member of the US Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, released a statement after the Senate confirmed D. Elinore McCance-Katz to be the first US Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use — a position created under reforms championed by Sens Murphy and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) as part of their Mental Health Reform Act.
“Every one of us has a family member or friend coping with mental illness or addiction. We created this position because after listening to families in Connecticut, I heard loud and clear that the government needs to do a better job addressing these issues for the people who need it. Dr McCance-Katz has a big job ahead of her,” said Sen Murphy. “She’s experienced and I’m confident she’ll bring much-needed focus and attention to making sure people with mental health needs and addiction get the care they need. I look forward to working her.”
Sen Murphy received a commitment from Dr McCance-Katz during her nomination hearing earlier this week that she will work to improve enforcement of mental health parity laws and ensure that Americans receive equal access to behavioral health care.
Among other things, Sen Murphy’s bipartisan Mental Health Reform Act strengthened transparency and enforcement of mental health parity laws, promoted integrated mental health and physical health, and established new programs to assist those with, or at risk for, mental illness.