News from Representative Walden

   

Dear Friend:

20 for 20: Walden Completes Town Halls in Every Second District County in First Three Months of 2019

Hearing from you is how I stay updated on the issues facing people on the ground in our communities. Whether it is through emails, phone calls, letters, telephone town halls, social media, roundtable discussions, or in-person town halls, staying connected with Oregonians is a top priority for me. That’s why I have responded to more than 77,000 letters emails, and phone calls over the last 12 months. And that’s why I have held 20 town halls -- one in every Second District county -- in the first three months of 2019.

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Click here to view my video statement after my town hall in Wasco last weekend -- my 20th of the year.

According to Town Hall Project, I am among the top lawmakers in Congress in the number of town halls held in 2019. I held town halls across eight counties in southern, central, and eastern Oregon in January and held town halls in Lake and Morrow counties in February.

And in early March, I held town hall meetings in Hood River, Wasco, and Umatilla counties, before holding meetings in Wallowa, Union, Baker, Grant, Wheeler, Gilliam, and Sherman counties last weekend.

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Last weekend, I held town halls in Enterprise, La Grande, Baker City, Mt. Vernon, Spray, Condon, and Wasco.

Here are the top five issues I’m hearing about from people on the ground across our district…

Wildfires and Smoke

Across our district, people are concerned about threat we face every summer: catastrophic wildfires. Catastrophic wildfires not only destroy our forests, they also threaten the health of our communities and our environment. The carbon emissions from just one Oregon wildfire season was equivalent to 3 million cars or 3.5 coal fired plants. And a similar wildfire season in California in 2018 emitted 68 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere, the equivalent of one year of electricity generation in California.

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A man from Eagle Point sent me the air filter from his C-PAP machine to illustrate how potent wildfire smoke is during the summer months in southern Oregon. After just two days of use inside his home in Eagle Point, the C-PAP filter, which is supposed to be a stark white, was turned black by wildfire smoke. This is the filter that allows people suffering from sleep apnea to breathe during the night, and it looked like the inside of a chimney.

During the town halls, I said that if we are serious about tackling climate change and protecting the environment, we need to get serious about changing the way we manage our federal forests. That’s why I helped pass into law the most significant reforms to forest management policy in over a decade. We provided new tools for the Forest Service to reduce fuel loads that have built up in our forests. We also will now treat wildfires like the natural disasters that they are, so we don’t have to rob from our forest management accounts to pay to fight wildfires every year.  

But there’s still more work to be done. I’m continuing to push for changing the law so we can get in after a fire and clean out the burned, dead timber where appropriate and replant a new forest for the next generation. This is what good land managers do on private, county and state forest lands.  It is past time that we do this on our federal lands as well. In fact, California Governor Gavin Newsom recently declared a state of emergency to allow state officials to bypass some environmental regulations to clear dead trees ahead of the next wildfire season. Newsom said that “Some of these projects quite literally, not figuratively, could take two years to get done, or we could get them done in the next two months,” and that it is important that the dead timber is cleared out before the wildfires begin again in a couple of months.

I completely agree with Governor Newsom on this topic and will continue my efforts to reform federal forest policy and protect our communities. To learn more about my efforts, please click here.

Tackling the High Cost of Health Care

At these town hall meetings, Oregonians continue to raise their concerns about the out-of-control costs of health care. The fact of the matter is that for too many Oregonians, health insurance coverage exists solely on paper because health care costs and high deductibles are putting family budgets in peril.

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That’s why I helped pass into law a modernization of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2017. This law helps lower the cost of important medication and devices by streamlining the approval process for generic alternatives. The FDA approved 971 generic drugs in 2018, the most in history due in part to new fast tracks for generic competition created under my legislation.

I also worked to close the Medicare “Doughnut Hole,” which will help increase discounts for seniors on their Medicare Part D drugs. And by bringing the hearing aid market to over the counter, seniors with mild or moderate hearing loss can now save thousands on their hearing aids.

And I helped pass into law legislation that bans the use of so-called “gag clauses,” which restrict a pharmacist’s ability to inform a patient that their drug would be cheaper if they paid out of pocket than if they paid through their insurance. I first heard about this problem from an Oregon pharmacist, who said that gag clauses prevent pharmacists from fully disclosing pricing options to patients in need.
There is clearly much more work to be done, but this is just some of the important progress we made to help make health care more affordable for Oregonians. To learn more about my continued efforts to improve rural health care, please click here.

Last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee completed work on legislation that will stop drug companies from engaging in anti-competitive activities that keep generics from entering the market.  I worked hard to make these measures bipartisan, and when we were done with our work they passed the Committee unanimously.

Friday, I spoke with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar about the Trump Administration’s efforts to lower drug costs for seniors and commended him on their latest approach which will slash drug costs for Medicare recipients overall by 30 percent beginning in January.  HHS estimates seniors would save up to 70 percent on insulin and 30 percent on arthritis drugs, to mention just a few examples.

Combating the Opioid Crisis

More Oregonians die from drug overdoses that traffic accidents. In 2017, more than 72,000 Americans lost their lives to the scourge of addiction. The majority of those deaths are attributed to the deadly illicit synthetic opioid, fentanyl. It is understandable why this issue continues to be a top priority for Oregonians during my town hall meetings.

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Fentanyl, pictured above in the middle, is so deadly that what looks like just a few grains of salt is enough to kill you. That’s why my legislation that is now law – the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act – bolsters our efforts to fight against fentanyl. Fentanyl too often flows across our borders and makes its way into our communities. My legislation takes several steps to boost screening of packages coming through our mail system and gives law enforcement officers better tools to get these drugs off our streets.

Other provisions of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, which was signed into law in October, are already being implemented on the ground. Key actions are being taken by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require drug companies to study whether prescription opioids are effective in addressing chronic pain. And the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) launched a new tool to help more than 1,500 drug manufacturers and distributors nationwide more effectively identify, report, and stop suspicious orders of opioids and reduce diversion rates. Both of these efforts were made possible by my legislation.

While the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act was the most significant effort to combat a single drug crisis in history, we still need to ramp up our efforts to stem the tide of addiction and save lives in our communities. To learn more about my work to combat the opioid crisis, please click here.

Bipartisanship in Congress

One thing that I keep hearing from people on the ground in our communities is that they are concerned about a lack of bipartisanship in Congress. People are concerned that partisan political fights and gridlock have come to define Washington, D.C. and Congress. As I am proud to say at each of these town halls, that is simply not the case.

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In fact, Democrats and Republicans work together more so than not on the big issues facing our country. While overheated political fights often grab the national headlines, they are the exception and not the rule. As chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee in the last Congress, I worked hard to ensure that our legislative work was bipartisan.

Of the 148 Energy and Commerce Committee bills that passed the House of Representatives in the last Congress, 93% of those bills received bipartisan votes when they passed. And 57 of those bills became law, including the landmark opioid package which included more than 60 individual bills.

These were not small legislative achievements, either. We modernized the Food and Drug Administration to lower the cost of prescription medication. We improved the Safe Drinking Water Act, to ensure our communities have safe water to drink when they turn on the faucet. We reauthorized the Federal Communications Commission, which will help us bridge the digital divide and bring broadband to rural communities in Oregon.

I am committed to continuing to work across the aisle to solve the big problems facing Oregon’s communities. To learn more about other key accomplishments for Oregon that we achieved in the last Congress, please click here.

Supporting the Men and Women Who Have Served Our County

Most importantly, giving Oregon veterans better access to care at the VA continues to be a top priority for people across our district. This is a top priority of mine as well in Congress.

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With my support, Congress passed historic funding for the Veterans Administration -- more than $70 billion to help the VA improve care for our veterans. Importantly, this funding emphasizes boosting mental health care, opioid abuse prevention, and rural health care programs. This is the largest dollar amount ever for the agency.

We also passed landmark VA reform in the VA MISSION Act, which President Trump has signed into law in June of last year. This law will bolster the VA to boost care for our veterans. We also fully funded the Choice Program in this law to ensure veterans can access care in the comfort of their community.

Importantly, the VA MISSION Act included legislation I introduced -- called the VA Medical Scribe Pilot Act -- to help unburden VA doctors and improve care for Oregon veterans.

This legislation introduces medical scribes into the VA system to handle paperwork and patient record keeping, so doctors can focus their full attention on their patients. This resulted in a 59% increase in the number of patients doctors can see per hour in the private sector, and we want to bring that success to our veterans at the VA.

The men and women who have defended our freedoms in uniform are owed a profound debt of gratitude. We can never repay that debt, but we can do everything in our power to make sure they are receiving the care and support they have earned. To learn more about my efforts to support Oregon veterans, please click here.

Ways Greg Can Help -- Help with the VA

As I have been informing people at my town hall meetings, one of the services my office provides is help with issues involving federal agencies. That includes the VA.

My office has helped more than 8,200 Oregon veterans and military service members receive the benefits that they have earned at the VA. If you or a loved one needs help with the VA, or any other federal agency for that matter, please reach out to my office at 800-533-3303. We will do everything we can to get results for you.

Thank you

I really appreciate all of those who turned out and participated at my town hall meetings so far this year, and I look forward to continuing to hold meetings all across Oregon’s great Second District. For a complete list of past town halls and my upcoming town hall meetings, please stay up to date with my schedule here.  

That’s all for this update. Remember, you can always keep in touch with me via email, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

It is an honor to represent you in the U.S. Congress.

Best regards,

Greg Walden
U.S. Representative
Oregon's Second District


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