Great News from Washington!
It isn't often that we hear good news come out of Washington D.C. these days, but I'm pleased to report that we've been getting some important things done the past few weeks. Here's a quick update:
Bipartisan Bill Strengthens Medicare Access, Children's Health Program, and Rural Schools
Access to healthcare for millions of seniors has been at risk for years because of a flawed Medicare "Sustainable Growth Ratio" (SGR) formula prescribed by Congress in 1997 to save money by dramatically slashing reimbursements to health providers. Each time the draconian cuts approached, Congress has kicked the can down the road by passing a gimmicky temporary postponement.
I'm pleased to report that this week, Democrats and Republicans finally came together to fix the problem. We passed H.R. 2, a bill that permanently replaces the SGR and also reauthorizes the critical Children's Health Insurance Program. This so-called "Doc Fix" means healthcare providers will have the certainty of reasonable payment rates, and seniors need no longer worry about the widespread loss of access that would have resulted under the SGR. There's also good news for rural schools in H.R. 2: I worked with a bipartisan group of colleagues to ensure that the bill included a two-year reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools program, which provides approximately $5.7 million in vital annual support for public schools and roads in Trinity, Del Norte, Humboldt, and Mendocino Counties.
Earlier this month, after weeks of partisan posturing and GOP threats of a partial government shutdown, Speaker Boehner did the right thing by reaching across the aisle to forge a bipartisan deal that funds the Department of Homeland Security for the rest of the year. This week's Medicare/Children's Health legislation marks the second time in a month the House has eschewed the usual partisan dysfunction and found a good faith, bipartisan solution to a major problem. Let's hope this is the beginning of a trend!
North Coast Veterans Will Get Improved Access to the Health Care They Deserve
After months of pushing the Department of Veterans Affairs to reconsider an arbitrary rule that would have required veterans in remote parts of my district to travel long distances to VA clinics instead of being able to see a local physician, my office received great news this week! The VA announced it will make the common-sense change that I had recommended in a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald: calculating veterans' eligibility for the Veterans Choice Program based on whether they would have to drive further than 40 miles to a clinic instead of ignoring mountain ranges and calculating the distance "as the crow flies." With this change, up to 1,700 veterans in Humboldt, Trinity, Mendocino, and Sonoma counties will now be eligible to seek timely care from local, private medical providers instead of being forced to travel to a distant VA facility. On behalf of these veterans and their families, I thank Secretary McDonald for helping them get the health care they deserve.
Protecting the California Coast From Dangerous Oil Drilling
Earlier this month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced the expansion of the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries, which now will protect the entire Sonoma Coast and part of the Mendocino Coast.
This expansion is the culmination of a decades-long effort by environmental leaders, fishermen, the tourism industry, and all of those in the community who value these waters. And it wouldn't have happened without the determined leadership of my predecessor, Lynn Woolsey, who fought to make this happen in Congress and pushed federal agencies to get it done.
By expanding these two sanctuaries to more than double in size, we will protect a 350-mile band of ocean from drilling and other risky activities-and help protect endangered species from extinction. Expanding this network of marine sanctuaries is such a critical step in protecting marine life from further climate harm. These sanctuaries can reduce environmental stressors on sea life and help prevent extinction: climate change mitigation at its best.
Safeguarding this national treasure isn't just good for the environment; it will also boost the coastal economy. The ecotourism industry-one of the North Coast's biggest employers-and local fishermen will both benefit greatly from this action.
I thank NOAA for their work in protecting these waters and diverse sea life for generations to come, and I want to recognize all of the hard work that it took to bring this long campaign to a successful conclusion - from the North Coast to the White House.
I'm glad to report some good news out of Washington for a change, and hope for more positive developments in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, I'll continue doing everything I can to make progress, even when the politics are challenging, and get things done for California's North Coast.
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With Best Regards,
Member of Congress