National Emergency Declared for Opioid Crisis; Donnelly and Walorski Applaud President’s Action

Building upon the recommendations in the interim report from the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, President Trump recently instructed his administration “to use all appropriate emergency and other authorities to respond to the crisis caused by the opioid epidemic.”

Both Sen. Joe Donnelly and Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (IN-02) issued statements supporting the decision:

“I am pleased that President Trump plans to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency. We know that it will take all of us working together to effectively turn the tide against this public health crisis that has harmed so many families in Indiana and across the country,” Donnelly said. “I hope this declaration will lead to necessary, additional resources for states and local communities to ensure those battling substance use disorders can access treatment.”

Walorski stated: “Opioid abuse is having a devastating impact on our communities, and President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency treats this epidemic with the urgency it requires. I will continue working with my colleagues and the administration to make sure first responders, law enforcement, medical professionals, treatment providers and families in our communities have the tools and resources needed to solve this crisis.”

Congress last year passed into law the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), bipartisan legislation to address the nationwide opioid epidemic.

Congresswoman Walorski served on the conference committee that negotiated the final bill, which included two provisions she authored. One requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to participate in state prescription drug monitoring programs, and the other allows the VA to use FDA-approved medical devices and other non-opioid therapies to treat chronic pain. Donnelly also helped enact CARA, which included several of his provisions. Additionally, Donnelly helped pass the 21st Century Cures Act into law, which includes a $10.9 million federal grant that will support prevention, treatment and recovery services in Indiana.

More recently, in late July, Donnelly introduced a bipartisan package of legislation “aimed at providing the facilities and access to telemedicine needed “to prevent and treat substance use disorder in rural communities.”

Donnelly Urges Market Stability on Health Care; Association Plans in the Offing?

Senator Joe Donnelly is urging the Trump administration to make a public commitment to continue cost sharing reduction (CSR) payments, which lower consumers’ deductibles and co-pays.

Early in the week, Donnelly continued his push for stability in the insurance markets in a letter to Hoosier Seema Verma – the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) – who he partnered with to help establish Indiana’s bipartisan Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP) 2.0 program through the Affordable Care Act. Donnelly’s letter comes as President Trump has declined to commit to continue making CSR payments. Donnelly says if these aren’t maintained, it could cause people to pay at least 15-20% more for health care.

In the letter to Verma, Donnelly wrote: “…It is our job to protect American families from unnecessary increases in the cost of health care, particularly those within our control. That is why I am very concerned by recent comments and actions made by the administration demonstrating a willingness and desire to undermine the health care system, even at the expense of the health and economic security of millions of Americans. These efforts to create uncertainty are harming working people and are already having a detrimental effect in Indiana.

“As we work to improve our health care system, we must first do no harm … The administration has the ability to help provide market stability today, and I respectfully request that the administration make a strong public commitment to continuing the CSR payments so that Congress can work together in a bipartisan fashion in an effort to reduce costs, expand access and strengthen the American health care system.”

Additionally, Donnelly said he’s recently heard from several insurance companies which provide coverage to Hoosiers – including two that have recently left the market – that cited lack of certainty, particularly as it relates to the CSR payments, as a key reason for increasing prices or leaving the market.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said this week that CSR payments were, at this point, bailing out a failed law. She also said no final decision had been made by the President on continuing them.

Read Donnelly’s full letter to Verma.

Meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is making a case to President Trump to use his executive authority to permit associations and organizations to offer group health insurance plans. Paul says this could impact tens of millions currently in the individual marketplace. The White House has yet to comment on the possibility. This action would be very helpful to Indiana Chamber members and we have previously discussed this positive policy proposal with members of the Indiana delegation.

Legislation Favorable to Drug, Medical Device Manufacturers Passes Senate, Heads to President

Legislation which passed the Senate Thursday ensures that drug and medical devices can move to the market quicker. Manufacturers of these products would pay higher user fees and the revenue raised would help the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review the items in a more expedited process. The law governing this process was set to expire by September 30, so it was imperative that the Senate act before members left for their August recess.

The legislation passed the Senate 94-1 with both Indiana senators supporting the legislation. The bill was not amended in the Senate and so therefore it now heads to the President for final signature.

The Indiana Chamber advocated for the passage of this bill during the Hoosiers Work for Health summit in July.

The legislation aligns with the Chamber’s legislative policy regarding the FDA: “The FDA has an important responsibility to make sure consumers get expeditious access to safe and effective products. Thus, the Indiana Chamber supports a well-resourced FDA, especially in the area of drugs and medical devices, through appropriated funds and user fees (tied to specific and measurable performance requirements for the FDA).”

Federal Health Care – Republicans Can’t Do It Alone

Progress on health care reform by Senate Republicans came to a halt very early this morning as the so-called “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) narrowly failed 49-51. All Democrats were joined in their opposition by Republican senators Susan Collins (Maine), John McCain (Arizona) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

While Collins and Murkowski’s votes came as no real surprise, the GOP hope was for McCain to allow the bill to proceed to an expected conference committee for further work. But in McCain’s statement explaining his decision, he mentions the lack of complete certainty provided by House Speaker Paul Ryan that the bill wouldn’t be voted on as-is and passed by the House instead – as well as his opposition to voting on what he considered to be a “shell of a bill.”

Essentially, this outcome means the only path to reform now would appear to be a bipartisan approach, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) alluded to in his remarks following the defeat.

Indiana’s Democratic senator, Joe Donnelly, has been pushing for this path all along and reiterated those thoughts after today’s vote:

“I still believe that by working together we can improve our health care system and, at a minimum, Congress and the administration should do no harm to the millions of Americans’ whose health and economic well-being are at stake. I share the frustration of Hoosiers and Americans who are tired of partisan proposals that fail to address issues with our existing health care system and the continued legislative uncertainty that is undermining the insurance markets.

“We should do the hard and necessary work to gather the input of doctors, nurses, hospitals and patients, and work in a bipartisan manner to make coverage more affordable and accessible for Hoosier and American families.”

Of note: Donnelly attended a dinner Wednesday evening with a bipartisan group of senators to discuss ways to work together on health care. In May, Donnelly also had a similar meeting.

Our junior senator, Todd Young, voted for the “skinny repeal” bill as “another step towards relieving Hoosiers and millions of Americans from the burdens of Obamacare. Too many Hoosiers have been left with too few options and rising costs. It is more important than ever that we keep our promise to them and fundamentally reform our health care system.”

Like Donnelly, Young is eager to strengthen the ACA and work in a bipartisan fashion to get that done.

“Going forward, I will participate in hearings in the HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee and continue to work with my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, to come up with a solution that provides long-term stability to our health care system and gives each and every Hoosier the opportunity to access quality and affordable insurance.”

Additionally, Young has previously looked for ways to find common ground. In the spring, he sent a letter to all Democratic senators urging them to share their views on what’s working and what’s not with the ACA.

Indeed, there are aspects of the ACA that both Democrats and Republicans have acknowledged as problematic; the medical device tax, which needs to be permanently repealed, is among them. So hopefully these areas can serve as a starting point for crafting a bipartisan solution.

From the Indiana Chamber’s perspective, the reality is that the ACA has not made life easier or costs cheaper for businesses (or many Hoosiers).

Separately, the ACA’s pending collapse – with insurers pulling out – isn’t surprising based on its inherently flawed assumptions. Unfortunately, very little of the congressional debate so far has focused on shoring up the ACA at its core, or how to put forth a replacement program that is stronger foundationally. Hopefully, that will occur in future discussions.

Indiana Delegation Talks Affordable Care Act Repeal

The vote to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) couldn’t get off the ground in the U.S. Senate. But President Trump, Vice President Pence and many members of Congress instead have called for a simple repeal of the ACA – with a replacement coming at a later date.

Congressman Luke Messer (IN-06) is on board with that process. “Hoosiers are sick and tired of endless debate on the Obamacare repeal bill, and the failure of Congress to act. This is D.C. politics as usual, and exactly why Americans sent the President to Washington to shake things up and get something done.

“We’ve had more than enough time to deliver on this promise to Americans, who have sent us here for three election cycles to repeal this failed law. I agree with President Trump that we must repeal Obamacare NOW and then work together on a plan to ensure Hoosiers get the health care they want and deserve.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Donnelly urged bipartisanship in finding common ground. “The proposed Senate health care bill would have been disastrous for Hoosiers. The latest plan to repeal without any replacement is downright reckless, playing politics with the health and economic well-being of millions of American families.

“It is time to do the hard work of forging a bipartisan bill to strengthen our current health care system, so that we can reduce costs for Hoosier families, continue to protect people with pre-existing conditions, and preserve the good work states like Indiana have done to expand affordable health care. The American people are counting on us to take a thoughtful approach together, and I urge the Senate to take this path in the coming days.”

Congressman Larry Bucshon (IN-08) had a different take. “Obamacare is collapsing and as a result patients across the country are at risk as premiums skyrocket and insurers flee the exchanges. In Indiana, premiums have increased an average of 74% and two of our state’s four insurers recently announced their departure from the Obamacare exchanges. Hoosiers are being priced out of the insurance market, if they can find insurance at all. This is not the health care Americans were promised by President Obama and congressional Democrats when they passed Obamacare, and certainly not what they deserve.

“To me, this is personal. I spent more than a decade as a surgeon before coming to Congress. This is about the well-being of my constituents who are struggling to access quality, affordable health care under Obamacare. That’s why I made a promise to repeal and replace this failed law to help drive down costs, expand access, and get the federal government out of decisions that should be left up to patients and their doctors. The House did its job to fulfill our promise. I’m extremely disappointed that, thus far, the Senate has failed to live up to its commitment to the American people. It’s time for the Senate to act.”

Chronic Diseases Top of Mind for New Wellness Council Executive Director

Chronic disease management is a costly challenge in Indiana. Due to high rates of tobacco usage and obesity and the resulting health issues (diabetes, lung cancer, heart disease, etc.), Indiana finds itself again near the bottom of recent national health and fitness rankings.

As the new executive director of the Wellness Council of Indiana (WCI), Jennifer Pferrer is ready to help tackle those challenges and spread the message of comprehensive wellness programming to Hoosier employers.

“Some of the goals in the Indiana Chamber’s Indiana Vision 2025 economic development plan target reducing smoking rates and obesity levels in Indiana, and the role of the WCI is to bring that conversation to a broader space and make an impact in health care costs and the health of Hoosiers,” she explains.

“I’m passionate about health care and I am looking forward to adding my mark on the Wellness Council of Indiana, as it really fits my background.”

Pferrer joined the WCI – a program of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce – in April and previously worked for the American Diabetes Association (ADA) for 10 years, serving in roles that included executive director for Indiana and Kentucky, and regional vice president of a six-state region. Prior to the ADA, she studied consumer-physician relationships as marketing manager at St. Vincent Hospital.

Pferrer’s goal is to continue proving the value of the WCI as an investment for Hoosier employers.

“Wellness is so much broader than Fitbit programs. This is not just food and fitness. There is a data-driven business case for wellness. Wellness needs to be seen as an investment and it goes back to managing chronic diseases,” Pferrer notes. “For example, health education for employees with pre-diabetes can reduce the annual health care spend by the employer by thousands of dollars.”

Through the WCI’s AchieveWell company-based wellness program certification and the Indiana Healthy Community Initiative – which encourages a community-based approach to wellness to increase economic development potential – Pferrer says the infrastructure is in place for wellness success.

“I want employers to know – if wellness is on their radar, they don’t have to recreate the wheel. We can convene and share best practices and be that resource for them,” she concludes.

For more information on the WCI or to connect with Pferrer, visit www.wellnessindiana.org or call (317) 264-2168.

Health Care: Donnelly Co-Authors Bipartisan Bill to Speed Up FDA Approvals for Devices; Young Reaches Across the Aisle on ACA

Senators Joe Donnelly (D-IN) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) have re-introduced the bipartisan FDA Regulatory Efficiency Act, which would allow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to bring innovative medical devices to market more quickly.

Donnelly stated, “As scientists and innovators across Indiana and our country work to find new cures and therapies, we should be making it easier for them to bring these products safely to those who need them. I’m proud to work with Sen. Gardner on this bipartisan legislation to cut through the red tape at the FDA and safely speed up the approval process.”

The FDA Regulatory Efficiency Act would help the FDA concentrate on high-priority activities by authorizing third parties to approve quality systems of device companies. Authorized third parties could only approve changes that do not involve major technology changes or changes in the use of the product. The legislation would still hold companies accountable for their quality systems, while also helping to alleviate the overwhelmed FDA. Donnelly and Gardner first introduced the legislation in October 2015.

Health Care Reform Notes
Freshman Sen. Todd Young has reached across the aisle in an attempt to find common ground on health care. He recently sent a letter to all Democratic senators urging them to share their views on what’s working and what’s not with the Affordable Care Act. Young is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which will have a key role in shaping the Senate’s version of health care reform.

Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (IN-02) is touting the American Health Care Act (AHCA), as passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, and how it “brings us closer to a better health care system that puts patients first.” Her editorial appeared Sunday in the South Bend Tribune.

Congressman Larry Bucshon, M.D. (IN-08), who sits on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce where he is a member of the Subcommittees on Health, is using his web site to promote the Washington Post’s fact-checking of several recent claims about the AHCA. One is on coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and the other on classification of assault as a pre-existing condition; both claims were deemed untrue.

Chamber Goes to D.C., Talks Top Member Issues With Hoosier Delegation

The Chamber’s Caryl Auslander met with Sen. Todd Young last Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Indiana Chamber members were once again represented in Washington as Caryl Auslander, VP of federal relations, returned to meet with over half of Indiana’s congressional delegation last week. On the agenda: the most pressing public policy matters the Chamber hears about from its member companies throughout the state.

On this trip, Auslander met with Sen. Todd Young, Rep. Susan Brooks (IN-05), Rep. Larry Bucshon, M.D. (IN-08) and Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (IN-09), as well as with key legislative staffers from the offices of Rep. Jim Banks (IN-03), Rep. André Carson (IN-07) and Rep. Pete Visclosky (IN-01).

Below are the five main policy areas discussed with these delegation members:

Health Care Reform
The Indiana Chamber wants to see lower health care costs and improvement to the overall system. We believe the Affordable Care Act is overly complex, administratively burdensome and financially unsustainable as-is. We support a “repeal and replace” approach, but in the absence of that, substantial changes should be made to make the law more workable and viable for the long term.

Infrastructure
The Chamber is looking for a stable, long-term way to pay for highway infrastructure, with a separate, sustainable and dedicated transportation funding source. Whatever the upcoming Trump and congressional plans entail, Indiana deserves its fair share of federal transportation dollars. Equity guarantee would ensure that all states receive a minimum level of funding relative to other states. All states should receive a minimum of 95% return on their share of fuel tax contributions and on any additional funding sources. Without an equity guarantee, overall funding may increase; however, Indiana could receive less overall or comparatively.

Regulatory Reform
The federal government has consistently overreached its authority, which has left Hoosier companies facing a multitude of complicated and changing federal regulations. It’s not only burdensome and time-consuming, but has created a lot of business uncertainty and hinders the ability to expand in the U.S. NOTE: Auslander reiterated the top regulations to overturn from the Chamber’s standpoint and gave the delegation another copy of the list.

Rural Broadband
The Chamber believes that advanced communications and digital infrastructure is critical to long-term economic development. Yes, we have come a long way, but still not enough is happening and not quickly enough. We encouraged our delegation to find more ways to bring the most rural parts of the country and state up to date technologically to help reverse downward economic trends. Broadband in rural communities helps businesses, schools and communities at-large; it is no longer a luxury but now a necessity.

Tax Reform
We need a tax code that is certainly simpler. It’s complicated and it costs way too much to comply with. Lowering the corporate income tax rate – which puts us at a competitive disadvantage globally – is something virtually everyone agrees on. We also urged getting rid of the ineffective alternative minimum tax (AMT) and the federal estate tax, which poses a real threat to small businesses and family farms. And while it is important for comprehensive tax reform, we need to do it in a way that does not increase the deficit.

ChamberCare Business Resources Provides Long-Term Solution for Your Groups

In March, we shared information about ChamberCare Solutions, an enhancement to the partnership between the Indiana Chamber and Anthem. Now we’d like to tell you more about ChamberCare Business Resources, part of ChamberCare Solutions.

What is it?
ChamberCare Business Resources is a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) that allows Indiana Chamber members with 2+ employees to outsource human resource tasks like worker’s compensation, payroll and tax filing, employee benefit programs, compliance, and more. Using a PEO frees up time and resources so small businesses can focus on the well-being and direction of their company. ChamberCare Business Resources is administered by Human Capital Concepts (HCC), a leader in innovative technology and administrative solutions.

In addition, ChamberCare Business Resources offers affordable health benefits along with comprehensive human resources (HR) services that can help you keep your workforce healthy and save time and money. As a member of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, you can choose a high-quality, affordable health plan from Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield (Anthem), with a wide range of options designed especially for small to medium-sized companies.

Why use ChamberCare Business Resources?
According to the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations (NAPEO), businesses that utilize a PEO grow 7% to 9% faster, enjoy 23% to 32% lower employee turnover and are over 50% less likely to go out of business.

Another benefit for Indiana Chamber members is access to high-quality, affordable health plan from Anthem, with a wide range of options designed especially for small to medium-sized companies. Through the PEO, Anthem pools membership so it can offer lower premiums on the same great head-to-toe coverage members expect from Anthem including medical, dental, vision, life and disability. As trusted organizations and pillars of the community, Anthem brings 73 years of experience coupled with the Chamber’s 95 years of service and HCC’s 125 years of combined staff experience offering a long term solution for your clients.

For more infomation about Anthem plans and benefits, check out our ChamberCare Business Resources Product Guide.

Need help finding the right solution for your clients?
Contact Indiana Chamber Director of Membership, Brock Hesler, at (317) 264-7539 or bhesler@indianachamber.com.

Recent News from Washington

  • Per last Thursday’s announcement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Indiana has been selected for a $10.9 million federal grant to fight the state’s opioid abuse epidemic. Senator Donnelly talked about this needed boost during a visit to Granger. Read the story. Congresswoman Susan Brooks (IN-05) also weighed in: “… Indiana is getting the resources it desperately needs to reduce overdose deaths; help Hoosiers get treatment for substance abuse and stay in recovery; and reduce the over-prescription of opioids.” Read Brooks’ full statement.
  • Congressman Jim Banks (IN-03) believes Congress should exert influence by authorizing military force against ISIS. He said, “Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s recent use of chemical weapons against his own people is a grim reminder of the deep challenges that continue to exist in Syria and the surrounding region.” Read his op-ed.
  • Congressman André Carson (IN-07), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, was on CNN last Wednesday talking about the situations with North Korea and Syria. Of North Korea, he said our country’s “tough talk has to get tougher”. Watch the over six-minute interview.